The unfortunate social costs of Coalgate and such scams

Arindam ChaudhariIndia’s scams and corruption are perennially ubiquitous - they keep recurring. Typically, a scam starts off with media frenzy and then gets lost in thin air! Even though media spotlight continues on the case for a while, the same mostly focuses on the economic aspect of it, largely ignoring the social impact.

Let me talk a little about the recent scam — Coalgate! Coal mining — the lifeline of thermal power that constitutes around 66 per cent of installed capacities in power generation in India — is inefficiently run. The sector is marred by massive pilferage and corruption with disregard to environment and conservation. However, there are many other serious ground concerns. To start with, the mandatory regulation of open cast and underground mining requirement is flouted openly, causing health hazards on account of environmental degradation per se. The corruption level is beyond one’s wildest imagination. Even the sand purchased to fill the old mines is being sold in the open markets for petty gains! There have been waves of protests against pollution, environment hazards, and land acquisition... but nothing much was done.

The coal mines also ruin the environment by destroying forest cover and even encroaching on animal reserves. Coal mines are also having telling effects on the tribal groups in these areas, whose sole source of livelihood is the forests.

The counterbalance behind the wisdom of coal mining, which is electricity generation, still is not enough and leaves 40 per cent of India’s population in perpetual darkness!

Surprisingly, only 50 per cent of electricity generated in India is billed, of which only 40 per cent of consumers pay the bill regularly. Power theft costs the nation around Rs 40,000 crore annually. What makes Coalgate and similar scams different from their counterparts is the way they impact the common man’s life. For one single Coalgate to happen, the entire social cost is forced down the throats of the poor. So it is not just about the crores that get swindled with every such Coalgate scam; it is more about the social costs that the nation bears... costs that have a wider impact and almost always go unnoticed.

— The author is a Management Guru and Honorary Director of IIPM Think tankĀ 

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