New Delhi: India’s fast depleting freshwater resources could be further impacted if plans for new coal power plants with a combined capacity of over 52,000 megawatts (MW) go ahead, the environmental group Greenpeace International warned in a report released on Tuesday.

The report said these plants would cause severe drought and worsen the ongoing conflict between agriculture and industry over water in regions such as Vidarbha and Marathwada in Maharashtra and northern Karnataka.

The report titled The Great Water Grab: How The coal Industry Is Deepening The Global Water Crisis, released on World Water Day, 22 March, reveals that a quarter of the coal plants proposed to be set up globally are located in regions that are already suffering from severe overdrawal of freshwater resources—the so-called red-list areas.

China tops the list with thermal power plants adding up to 237 gigawatts (GW) proposed to be set up.

India ranks second in this category with 52 GW of capacity proposed in red-list areas and a further 122 GW proposed in high or extremely high water-stress areas.

“In all, over 40% of the proposed Indian coal fleet is in highly stressed water use areas. If all proposed coal plants are actually built, India’s coal fleet will double its current water consumption to 15.33 billion cubic metres/year—more than any other nation, including China," the report said.

Greenpeace, in an official statement, said the report is the first global plant-by-plant study of the coal industry’s current and future water demand and also identifies the countries and regions that will be most impacted. It said, globally 8,359 existing coal power plants already consume enough water to meet the basic water needs of 1.2 billion people.

Calling out coal as one of the most water-intensive methods of generating electricity, the report said as per the International Energy Agency, coal will account for 50% of the growth in global water consumption for power generation over the next 20 years.

It further stressed that large parts of almost all major Indian states are suffering moderate to high or extremely high water stress. These include Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Tamil Nadu, Bihar and West Bengal.

“Large parts of Karnataka, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh are ranked as over-withdrawal areas, where demands on water exceed 100% of the available water. This means that the groundwater is being depleted or inter-basin transfers are being resorted to," the report emphasized. The report said that many of the water-stressed regions are extremely vulnerable to drought and yet hundreds of water-guzzling coal plants are proposed there.

Several states in India have already declared drought due to poor rainfall from the 2015 monsoon, with some thermal power plants in Maharashtra and Karnataka having to shut down because of lack of water.

“Water scarcity is already affecting operational power plants. The 1,100 MW Parli power plant in Maharashtra has been shut down since July 2015, and four units of the 1,720 MW Raichur power plant in Karnataka were recently shut down due to a lack of water. NTPC’s Solapur power plant has faced commissioning delays and an ongoing threat to its financial viability due to water supply issues," it added.

Jai Krishna, a campaigner from Greenpeace India, said: “A phase-out of coal plants in over-withdrawal areas in India could lead to water savings of over 1 billion cubic metres of annual water consumption. If plans to build the 52 GW of proposed coal plants in over-withdrawal areas are scrapped, it would lead to savings of another 1.1 billion cubic metres of water consumption per year."

Mint in February reported that 80% of India’s 1.25 billion population faces severe water scarcity for at least a month every year. It also said that there are 180 million Indians who face severe water scarcity all year round.

Joris Koornneef, an expert from leading sustainable energy consultancy Ecofys, which Greenpeace International commissioned to review the report, said: “This report identifies areas where water scarcity is likely to be affected by the current and future use of coal, while providing new insights into how energy and water are related, especially for the supply and use of coal."

Greenpeace proposed an immediate moratorium on thermal power expansion in regions with high water stress, a thorough analysis of water availability for all proposed new coal plants and a transition from coal to energy that uses little or no water—like solar and wind.

Interestingly, the government has repeatedly stressed that it will continue to focus on coal for fulfilling India’s energy scarcity and providing electricity to millions across the nation.

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