“There is no shortage of coal in the country,” Prahlad Joshi, the minister of coal, told the Parliament during the budget session, in February 2023. Joshi said that coal production grew by 16 percent in 2022–23 to reach about seven hundred million tonnes. A month after this, Joshi declared that India would start exports of coal by 2025–26 and stop imports of thermal coal. After this reassurance from the coal ministry, perhaps the Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education, or ICFRE, could re-examine its recommendation to open more areas for coal mining in the ecologically sensitive Hasdeo Arand region in Chhattisgarh, ostensibly to meet the coal shortage in the country. The expansion of the mining area in the Hasdeo Arand Coalfield, or HACF, would primarily benefit the Adani Group, which has a joint venture with the Rajasthan Rajya Vidyut Utpadan Nigam Limited, a public sector undertaking of the Rajasthan government.
The ICFRE, which comes under the environment ministry, recommended further mining in the HACF, in a 2021 joint study on coal mining in the area, which was conducted on the orders of the National Green Tribunal. The Wildlife Institute of India, or WII, another research and training body under the environment ministry, was a part of this joint study that was supposed to look at the ecological impact of mining projects in the dense forests of Hasdeo Arand. The WII’s report recommend against opening more areas for mining in HACF. Both WII and ICFRE found that opening more areas for mining will compromise the imperatives of biodiversity conservation and livelihood of people living in the area.
But ICFRE study, led by its deputy director general Sudhir Kumar, went beyond its mandate, explored the issues of coal availability, selectively picked data to claim that there was a shortage of coal, and used that to advocate expansion of mining area in HACF. The ICFRE, headed by Arun Singh Rawat, an Indian Forest Service officer, allowed anthropocentric reasons to overtake concerns over severe environmental damages that were identified by the study itself. Subsequently, citing the ICFRE study, the union government and the Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan governments have been moving ahead with opening more areas for mining projects in Hasdeo Arand.