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More Singurs ahead

Industry's land may just double in two decades

Business Standard  |  New Delhi 

Most tend to focus on the emission intensity of Indian industry in order to see if India will be able to meet its voluntary commitment to reduce this by around a fifth by 2020. This, however, as a recent study by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) points out, is probably the least of India’s problems. CSE has done a study looking at the highest emitting industries — steel, aluminium, cement, fertilisers, paper and pulp, and power account for 60 per cent of India’s current emissions — and found that most of them are pretty state-of-the-art when it comes to emissions. Since electricity is very expensive in India, it is easy to understand why they try to conserve as much of it as possible or, in the case of the power industry, extract the maximum out of coal — the study finds, for instance, that NTPC is the most efficient producer of power in the world, in terms of units of energy produced per unit of energy used in the form of coal. Similarly, the cement industry uses the best technologies; if Indian steel is more emission-intense than developed country steel, it is because India does not have the kind of access to steel scrap that western mills have and so has to use the coal-based sponge iron route which is energy-inefficient and polluting. As CSE puts it, achieving the 2020 goals is easy but once the low-hanging fruit have been plucked, further reductions require huge amounts of capital and, more important, technology and R&D, which are not even on the horizon right now. That’s a big lesson as far as climate change negotiations are concerned since it points to the fact that India needs the West to provide it both capital and technology in the emission-fighting game.

A lot more problematic, however, is CSE’s prognosis on land and water requirements. CSE estimates the total land used by industry today, including that for mining, and finds that this is around 7 lakh hectares right now. It then does an exercise on how much more will be required in the next two decades, based on the environment impact assessment reports that all projects have to submit — this works out to a stunning 10 lakh hectares more, around 3.3 lakh hectares of which will be for mining rights, most of which are in dense forest areas. Dantewada, where the Maoist violence took place and which accounts for nearly 70 per cent of Chhattisgarh’s iron ore, has a forest cover of over 62 per cent and a tribal population of around 80 per cent. If one Singur was enough to unnerve both officialdom as well as industry, there are many more Singurs coming up ahead. When it comes to water, industry’s needs will more than treble in this period — even its today’s demand for water, keep in mind, equals that of the entire country. Such “business vs people” issues could come up repeatedly unless the political, administrative and business leadership get wiser and more farsighted.

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First Published: Mon, May 10 2010. 00:08 IST