Indian coal mining a threat to tigers, Greenpeace warns

Activists demand suspension of clearances for new mines, days after blackout highlighted vulnerability of power supplies

Coal mining for electricity generation is the biggest threat to India’s tigers, a Greenpeace report has warned.

The report, which comes just days after massive blackouts highlighted power shortages in India, demands a moratorium on clearances for new mines.

A hot-button issue in India, the question of tiger conservation pits the responsibility for preserving wildlife against the development needs of a country that witnessed the slowest economic growth in nine years in March and where hundreds of millions continue to live below the poverty line.

India is home to more than half of the world’s tigers, with 1,706 living in the wild, compared to 100,000 at the turn of the last century.

The country has witnessed an unprecedented increase in the number of new coal mines and coal-run power plants in the past five years, placing the lives of many endangered animals at risk, the environmental activists’ report released late on Wednesday says.

Calling the situation stark, Greenpeace says coal mining has already started affecting tigers in many areas such as Chandrapur in the state of Maharashtra.

“But there are other locations where the problem is already, or will soon be, equally severe,” Greenpeace campaigner Ashish Fernandes told Reuters.

Reeling from the two blackouts this week and an ongoing shortage of power, the Indian government is under great pressure to mine more coal to meet a soaring demand for energy.

Frequent power outages are seen as a major constraint on economic growth, putting pressure on the government to permit the development of coal mines.

India sits on the world’s fifth-largest coal reserves, and produces the most after China and the US.

The report says if India continues to depend on coal to meet its energy needs, the destruction already seen in these areas will multiply across much of central India, which has 80% of the country’s coal reserves and 35% of its tigers.

Last month, in a move to protect the endangered cats, the supreme court in India ordered a ban on tourism in “core zones” of more than 40 of the country’s tiger reserves.

The government has for decades been fighting a losing battle to protect tiger numbers against poaching, which feeds a lucrative cross-border trade in body parts, and the loss of natural habitat.

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