The Coalgate scandal cost India about Rs. 1,067,000 crore that could have been invested in alternative energy to make it mainstream. The ministry for new and renewable energy, for example, earmarks Rs. 225 crore for electrification of 500 remote villages from its financial outlays for 2011-12.
Overall, for its many activities, it has projected its projects at Rs. 1,200 crore in 2011-12. The money lost could have been used by the ministry to electrify as many as 11,35,106 villages - a transformative experience. A simplification, but it illustrates the proportion of opportunity denied to lakhs of Indians. ‘Locked-In’, a new study by the Sierra Club on global coal plants, uses examples from India, China and the United States to highlight the financial risks that countries now take in this era of uncertainty by investing in coal plants. For us in India, studies like this also show that the losses are exponential, because they push investment in sectors that are financially shaky, apart from maligning the environment. Coalgate therefore, has to be seen not just as a financial loss but as the terrible crisis our policies are pushing us into.
A lesson to learn
Coalgate and the Rio + 20 summit coincided in a way that could offer lessons to anybody bothered about the state of the environment. The Rio+20 document, the 'Future We Want', has been roundly condemned by most civil society organisations as being bad for both the environment and the people. Despite the huge advocacy, many objectionable parts remained untouched. Nothing really happened, in other words, at Rio. What this tells us is that the era of big leadership in the environmental world is over. We can no longer expect results from heads of states and ministers — they seem to have lost the plot. If anything, we have to protect our environment from our leaders.