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India's big power blackout: Why coal hasn't been a savior

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Coal barons in charge

In the meantime, coal is wreaking havoc on the environment, particularly here in the state of Meghalaya, where regulations simply do not apply. Coal mine owners, who are also politicians, run the state. And in their race to tap India’s coal resources, they are leaving behind a legacy of massive deforestation and water contamination that could have a ripple effect on the environment and health inside the world's second most-populous country and neighboring Bangladesh

The influence of the coal lobby has gotten so strong that one of the country's top ministers overseeing the environment hails from one of the biggest coal baron families in the state. 

Vincent Pala, the union minister of state for water resources, and his family have made a fortune in mining. He says he’s saddened that many of the rivers in the Jaintia Hills where he grew up no longer support life. But, he says, “future policies can only be made if they accommodate the coal business, too.”

Mr. Pala may officially have responsibility for clean water, but he has a personal financial interest in coal, points out Patricia Mukhim, the editor of The Shillong Times, Meghalaya's oldest and largest circulating English daily.

“The dichotomy is most of the rivers in Jaintia Hills where he’s from are already toxic and no longer support any life. But he has done and said nothing," says Ms. Mukhim, who is also a member of the National Security Advisory Board, which looks at the environment, water, and food security. "Politics is all about money and coal barons have all the money that politics demands. Coal barons can make or break a government.”

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