A giant power plant set atop what was once a virgin forest churns with coal from a nearby mine, a roaring example of India’s aspirations to best China’s economic growth and light the homes of its poorest people.
Yet the privately run Sasan power project — backed by hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. government funding — has also generated land disputes, health and environmental concerns and financial hardship for villagers who say it has delivered little of what was promised.
As India tries to bring electricity to 300 million people who lack it, it is defying international calls for reducing climate-changing fuel emissions and instead heavily expanding investments in coal, often with huge costs for rural people living in the path of the inexpensive fossil fuel.
In the village of Amlohri two miles west of the Sasan plant, a mountain of rocky mining waste dumped by Reliance Power, the plant developer, surrounds a cluster of mud-and-brick dwellings, their tin roofs reflecting a blinding sun.
Winds often scatter coal dust and fine rock over crops and into wells that store drinking water. Monsoon rains wash the soil down into the village and into homes whose walls have cracked, activists say, because of blasting from the mine.
“Big trees were crushed under the rock,” said Ramji Basor, one of several farmers who live in the shadow of the power plant about 375 miles southeast of New Delhi. “We found dirt and dust on everything.”
The stories told by Basor and his neighbors illustrate how not all Indians have benefited as coal propels their country in its bid to be the world’s fastest growing major economy. India expects to double its coal production over the next five years to 1 billion tons annually.
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