MAC/20: Mines and Communities

The Weekend Essay (Part Two): India's New Coal Geography

Published by MAC on 2020-02-22
Source: Uio (Oslo)

Reassembling infrastructure in Goa

This is the second part of an important article, published by a Norwegian institution devoted to development and the environment.

It paints a very different overall picture of the "holiday" state of Goa than many visitors may glimpse.

It strongly argues that the state's identify as primarily an iron ore producer and exporter - rendered particularly notorious, not to say illegal, under the practises of UK-listed Vedanta and others - is now rapidly becoming a major component to import and burn coal domestically, while seeking to link this  into international infrastructure hubs.

[Comment by Nostromo Research]

For the first article in this series, see India's New Coal Geography

India's New Coal Geography: Reassembling infrastructure in Goa to Move Coal

Uio: Senter for Intvikling og Mijo (Oslo)

14 February 2020

How does India’s new coal geography harness and reconfigure existing
infrastructural arrangements to suit the needs of coal? In the second part
of this series on India’s new coal geography, we examine this question in
the context of Goa.

Goa is India’s smallest state. It is also increasingly becoming a coal hub
as the state’s most important port at Mormugao seeks new revenue from the
coal trade. The infrastructural, environmental and human consequences have
been dramatic.

By the early 2000s, Goa’s infrastructure was broadly configured around
three main economic activities. The coastal strip was dominated by an
expansive tourism infrastructure; the central plateaus were home to
industrial and transport infrastructure, the latter predominantly running
in a North-South direction. And the sparsely populated hinterland
contained extractive activities that connect to, and were dependent on,
other infrastructural elements. Extraction has since long played an
important role in the state’s economy, and until recently, Goa was India’s
largest exporter of iron ore, with exports peaking at 54 million tonnes in

The mining, transport and port facilities of Goa’s extractive industries
shaped the state’s infrastructural configuration in important ways. It
claimed much land in its own right, but also incorporated riverine spaces
since much of the ore was transported by barge from the mining areas via
rivers to Mormugao port for export. When not transported by barge, the ore
was brought via the road network by thousands of trucks. The evident
environmental degradation associated with iron ore mining led to the
emergence of a strong anti-mining movement that skilfully and successfully
enlisted the language and institutions of law to fight its battles.
Following the exposure of large-scale corruption in the mining industry in
2012, iron ore mining was initially banned and later capped at less than
half the 2011 peak.

From Iron to Coal

The mining ban severely undermined the ability of Goa’s mining-related
infrastructure to serve the needs of capital. With mining suspended, the
associated infrastructure no longer underpinned the movement of raw
materials, goods, and services. Mining sites were unproductive, barges and
trucks sat idle, roads and rivers saw less traffic, and export activities
and revenue at Mormugao port fell dramatically. The mining ban was thus a
central component in a conjuncture where multiple factors coalesced to
create enabling conditions for the emergence of a new coal geography in
Goa: the loss of jobs and earnings; a dormant infrastructure; a large
revenue crisis at Mormugao port; a new national Indian government with
grand visions for new infrastructure projects; and private actors in
search of coal. From this conjuncture emerged attempts to rework the
state’s existing infrastructure to a new geography political economy
centred on coal. The outcome that we sketch briefly below is a hybrid new
coal geography, one that reconfigures relationships between public and
private actors, old and new infrastructures, and coastal and inland coal

Private companies operating at Mormugao port moved relatively quickly to
reposition the port as a multi-commodity port with an important coal
component. The port currently has five of its 11 berths leased out to
private companies: two to the Jindal Group, one to the Adani Group, and
two to Vedanta, one of the largest extractive industry companies in the
world. All either use these berths, or plan to use them, for handling
coal. In 2001, coal imports stood at only 2.7 MT. In 2011-12, it had risen
to nearly 7 MT, and in 2015-16 to nearly 12 MT per year – an increase of
more than 70 percent in four years. In contrast to the new national coal
geography that we described in part one of this series, where thermal coal
is crucial, coking coal still dominates at Mormugao port, and comprised 82
percent of total coal imports in 2011-12 and 67 percent in 2015-16. But, a
transition is underway: during this interval, thermal coal imports more
than tripled, while coking coal imports only grew by 37 percent.

The integration of Goa into India’s new coal geography was aligned with
the big infrastructure programs of the Indian central government, namely
Bharatmala (focused on roads and highways) and Sagarmala (focused on
‘port-led prosperity’). In a Sagarmala master plan for Mormugao port,
finalised in 2016, the ambition to turn Mormugao into a coal hub was spelt
out clearly through several new infrastructure projects. One was the
capacity expansion of existing coal berths run by private actors to double
their coal import capacity. The second was the dredging and expansion of
the approach channel to enable much larger vessels (carrying more coal) to
dock. The third was the redevelopment and expansion of additional berths
for coal import by Vedanta. Various ‘optimistic scenarios’ set 50 MT of
coal import per year as a target to be reached by 2030 or 2035. This would
be achieved in part by enlisting 17 thermal power plants “in the pipeline
in the hinterland” with a total capacity of more than 20,000 MW as new

Global Connections

The coal geography that Mormugao connects to is global. As described by
The Indian Express, the coal’s journey may begin in South Africa’s
Richards Bay – one of the largest coal exporting facilities in the world –
where it is loaded onto a vessel sailing under a Bahamas flag. The
importer could well be Adani Global Private based in Singapore, importing
coal into Goa and transporting it onwards to Karnataka state. Indeed, the
destination for most of the coal is the coking coal-dependent steel
factories in Karnataka, whose steel industry includes key actors at
Mormugao port such as Jindal. Adani, another key actor in the Mormugao
port reconfiguration, mainly imports coal for its clients in the steel
industry in Karnataka. But, Adani is also India’s largest private thermal
power producer with an installed capacity of 12,450 MW, most of which is
coal based. This includes a 1,200 MW capacity coal based plant in Udupi in
coastal Karnataka, which uses 100 percent imported coal as fuel, and is
proposed for a significant expansion to 2,800 MW.

To enable the onwards movement of coal from Mormugao port, existing road,
river, and rail infrastructure in Goa is being reassembled. Ambitious
plans for a new road-river-rail corridor between Goa and Karnataka have
been set in motion, including the four-laning of highways cutting through
the ecologically sensitive Western Ghats hill range and into Karnataka.
Other highways are also being widened, or linked in new ways to enable
eastbound coal transport. Additionally, the railways are laying a second
track also through the Western Ghats – a stretch that includes the
steepest gradient anywhere on the Indian railway system – to connect to
the steel city of Hospet. According to official figures, more than 34,000
tonnes of coal is transported by this rail route every day. The existing
riverine infrastructure in Goa is also being harnessed to support the coal
economy. Six river stretches have been nationalised and are to be
“developed” via dredging and bank protection, concretised riverbanks and
bunds, and new coal jetties. As is often the case in India, these
different coal-related projects that are deeply integrated and only make
economic and infrastructural sense when seen as a singular project, have
officially been split up into very many small and isolated projects. This
obscures the bigger infrastructural transformation underfoot, artificially
minimises the “official” environmental impact of new projects, and makes
it difficult for those incorporated into the new coal geography against
their will to organise politically across sites and scales. In total, road
and rail projects are likely to divert hundreds of hectares of protected
and reserve forests, affecting nearly 100 villages.

Negative Impacts

The articulation of Goa’s pre-existing infrastructure with India’s new
coal geography has had considerable consequences for public health and the
environment. Since 1999, when the port first began handling coal, local
people, particularly residents of the port city of Vasco da Gama have been
filing petitions and appeals against pollution and violations of
regulations at the port. In December 2018, the report “Closing the
Enforcement Gap: Community-Led Groundtruthing of Environmental Violations
in Mormugao, Goa” documented the multiple ways in which the port operates
without adhering to pollution control regulations, resulting in layers of
coal dust settling on fields and forests, damaging crop yields and
biodiversity. Increased vehicular and train movement with heavy loads also
threaten old heritage buildings, and the channel dredging and capacity
expansion at Mormugao destroys the livelihoods of local fishing
communities. There has thus been considerable popular opposition to the
arrival of coal in Goa, which houses India’s perhaps most vibrant and
resourceful civil society. Close to one third of Goa’s villages have
passed resolutions opposing the movement of coal through their area. And,
in May 2017, hundreds of Goans showed up at public hearings on
coal-related projects. This led to the formation of a broad-based movement
called Goa against Coal. Cases have also been filed in court, by among
others the Goa Foundation that played a key role in earlier fight against
iron ore mining. And, various state institutions have interfered on
occasions, including the Goa State Pollution Control Board that ordered
reduced coal handling, and even temporarily withdrew a company’s consent
to operate, following breaches at Mormugao port.

The integration of Goa into India’s new coal geography has thus been far
from friction-free, and the negative consequences have been evident. While
there may be no such thing as a paradigmatic instantiation of India’s new
coal geography, the transformations wrought on Goa by the entry of coal is
indicative of some of the key possible impacts of this geography on
coastal regions and beyond.


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