CANBERRA (Reuters) - India's GVK Power and Infrastructure won environmental approval for its A$10 billion ($10.4 billion) Alpha coal and rail project in Australia's Queensland state on Thursday, with 19 conditions to protect the environment.
The approval came as Australia declared the end of the resources boom that cushioned the country from the global financial crisis, a day after the world's biggest miner, BHP Billiton shelved two major expansion plans worth at least $40 billion.
The Alpha scheme is the front-runner among several projects in the untapped Galilee Basin in Queensland, where rival Indian group Adani Enterprises is planning a A$10.9 billion coal and rail project.
The Galilee Basin projects have been slow to win clearance, facing opposition from environmentalists concerned about coal burning, port dredging and ship traffic along the fragile Great Barrier Reef, as well as from landowners along the proposed rail route.
Environment Minister Tony Burke said the approval included measures to protect Queensland's Great Barrier Reef and threatened species in the area.
The Alpha coal project is being run by Hancock Coal, 79 percent owned by GVK and 21 percent owned by Australia's richest person, Gina Rinehart.
The Alpha project has a mine life of more than 30 years, and would produce 32 million tonnes a year, GVK Vice Chairman G V Sanjay Reddy said.
"This positive decision also paves the way to ensure more than 1.4 billion people (largely in Asia) that face a major shortage of electricity, are provided with an additional source of coal to enhance supply of electricity to the region, thus improving quality of life and overall economic development," he said in a statement.
The Alpha project is vital to the coal ambitions of GVK - a conglomerate with interests in airports, hotels and transportation, besides energy - and could help meet voracious appetite for coal in resource-hungry India, where two-thirds of power production is dependent on the mineral. ($1=1.05 Australian dollars) (Reporting by James Grubel; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)