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NEW DELHI : The Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) has censured state-run Coal India Ltd’s (CIL’s) over issues of environment discipline, air quality monitoring and high pollutant levels at the world’ largest coal producer’s mines.

This comes in the backdrop of India expediting efforts for coal mining, even as the window for fossil fuels is rapidly closing, and the global energy landscape has been rapidly evolving, with fundamental changes to the investment culture amid growing climate concerns.

In a Performance Audit Report, the government’s audit watchdog said that while the guidelines containing the responsibility and delegation at different levels in environment discipline were formulated by CIL, but the same were not dovetailed in their operating manual by the subsidiaries.

Also, the air quality monitoring in three subsidiaries of CIL was found deficient as against 96 monitoring stations, only 58 were established. In addition, 12 mines didn’t comply with the state pollution control board’s directives for installation of Continuous Ambient Air Quality Monitoring Stations.

The issue assumes importance given that India’s coal requirement is expected to go up to 1123 million tonnes (mt) by 2023 from the present levels of around 700 mt. The earlier plan was to mine 1.5 billion tonnes of coal by 2020. Of this, one billion tonnes was to come from state run Coal India Ltd and 500 million tonnes from non-Coal India sources in line with the government’s push to raise natural resources production and kickstart economic growth.

“Over the last few decades in India, protection and conservation of the environment and sustainable development have become increasingly important, in the light of climate change which had devastating consequences on the survival of humanity. Effective environmental governance is, therefore, of utmost importance," the report said.

The CAG in its report titled Assessment of Environmental Impact due to Mining Activities and its Mitigation in Coal India Limited and its Subsidiaries also said that the pollutants exceeded the limits prescribed by Bureau of Indian Standards in eight mines. Also, 62 lakh Kilo-litre (KL) of untreated water was discharged to nearby water bodies by Lakhanpur and Basundhara (W) mines of Mahanadi Coalfields Limited during 2013-18, thereby contaminating ground water.

“Extraction of coal, therefore, involves serious environmental and social concerns, including, air, noise, water pollution, land degradation and far reaching consequences on local bio-diversity. Most of the coal reserves in India are located in river basins which are rich in forest cover and are habitats of precious wild life and indigenous tribal communities," the CAG report added.

India has called for a reset on climate debate on coal as a fuel, in the backdrop of India becoming one of the top renewable energy producers globally with ambitious capacity expansion plans. Also, India’s per capita power consumption, about 1149 kilowatt-hour (kWh), is among the lowest in the world. In comparison, the world’s per capita consumption is 3600 kWh.

A CIL spokesperson didn’t immediately comment on the CAG’s report.

The report also recommended that, “the companies under coal sector may put in place an Environment Policy," and “the capital works relating to pollution control measures may be completed expeditiously."

This comes in the backdrop of issues of environment and air pollution assuming centre stage with air quality levels beginning to deteriorate in the National Capital Region (NCR) and other parts of the country.

Delivering India's statement at the 25th Conference of Parties (COP) currently underway in Spain, union Minister for Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Prakash Javadekar highlighted that only six countries are on track to meet their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) announced in Paris, and India is leading the pack.

As per UN estimates, the world would need to increase its efforts five-fold to contain climate change to a 1.5°C rise at most. Any temperature rise beyond that would lead to major and irreversible damage. India on its part has maintained that it is doing its best to mitigate and adapt to climate change, but climate finance remains a concern.

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