Coal in a hole
Not long ago, the Adani Group seemed unstoppable. The Indian conglomerate – whose activities span power generation, mining and major infrastructure – had been growing rapidly, reaching $260 billion in market value in 2022. The company’s founder, Gautam Adani, was the world’s third richest man and a key ally of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Then in January 2023, the investment firm Hindenburg Research released a report, accusing the Adani Group of large-scale stock market manipulation and accounting fraud. As details emerged, Adani’s share price tumbled. As of March 2023, $150 billion has been wiped off the company’s value, and Mr Adani himself has slid from third to thirtieth in the global rich list.
A large part of the Adani Group’s business is in coal, and the conglomerate has long been under fire from local communities and climate activists for its aggressive plans to expand its mining, infrastructure and coal-burning operations. Now, some of the Group’s most notorious coal projects may be hanging in the balance. A $850 million deal to buy coal company DB Power has already been shelved. Could Adani’s financial woes be good news for people and planet?
After major investors including Barclays, Citigroup and Deutsche Bank expressed concerns about loans they’d made to Adani, the conglomerate repaid at least $1.1 billion of those debts in full. Campaigners are wondering if this leaves Adani with less cash available for its own expansion plans.
Since 2010, opponents of Adani’s proposed Pench coal power station near Chhindwara, India have faced violence and intimidation, allegedly from agents linked to Adani. Farmers forced off their land have reoccupied the area to grow crops again. Little of the plant has actually been built and now, according to the research group Adani Watch, the project has vanished from the Adani Power website.
Over in Australia, Indigenous traditional owners and their allies had already succeeded in driving away international investors from Adani’s notorious Carmichael mega-mine, forcing the Group to fund the project by itself. The mine was originally planned to export 60 million tonnes of coal per year; according to climate campaigners at the Sunrise Project, it only produced 5.5 million tonnes in 2022 and Adani executives are now downplaying the rate of future expansion.
According to Coedie McAvoy (aka Gurridyula Gaba Wunggu), cultural custodian for the Wangan and Jagalingou people who continue to oppose the presence of the Carmichael mine on their lands: ‘Our people have said No to Adani from the beginning and we’ve been warning politicians and investors that it is a dirty and destructive company with no respect for our human rights.
‘Now that Hindenburg has accused Adani of “the biggest con in corporate history”, investors need to wake up, stop funding the destruction of our country.’ His words are echoed by Muneshwar Singh Porte from Chhattisgarh, India. Porte told me how, despite the Hindenburg revelations, Barclays is continuing to finance Adani’s coal expansion plans in the region, which threaten 13 villages with destruction: ‘My appeal is for the bank to stop financing Adani. This would end the destruction we are currently facing, and ensure our water, lands and forests are safe and protected.’
Campaigners are clear: Adani’s troubles may be a moment of opportunity, but to see more coal projects cancelled we’ll need to stand in solidarity with the resisting communities, and keep piling the pressure onto international investors.
This article is from
the May-June 2023 issue
of New Internationalist.
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