For a greener future: Jharkhand needs a planned transition from coal

Jharkhand accounts for close to 300,000 individuals employed within the illegal coal mining industry

By Vagisha Nandan, Charudutta Panigrahi
Published: Thursday 12 May 2022

The world is undergoing a transition from a fossil fuel-based economy to a clean energy-based economy. Coal mines in India, the third-largest coal producer in the world, are increasingly becoming unprofitable and are being shut down (temporarily or for good) in an unplanned manner. 

About 50 per cent mines are closed and half of the remaining are unprofitable, according to a study conducted by International Forum for Environment, Sustainability & Technology in Jharkhand. These unplanned closures will impact not just the formal workforce but a greater number of informal workers who have been dependent on these mines for livelihoods. 

Joblessness and financial pressures generated as a result of such closures will lead to a spurt in related social conflicts. It is thus very important that the roadmap to the transition factor in the socio-economic conditions affecting coal-dependent communities at large. 

It is equally important to build community confidence to deal with the social and economic changes. Local Civil Society Organisations (CSO), we believe, can play an important role in addressing this challenge. 

This calls for an in-depth understanding of the role of CSOs in bringing about a smooth and just transition in Jharkhand. 

Impact of coal phaseout on local community

Jharkhand is one of the largest producers of coal in the country. The significance of coal mining for the eastern state can be estimated from the fact that about 8 per cent of the state government’s revenue comes from coal mining taxes and royalties. 

The sector is responsible for livelihoods generation in not just the mining industry, but also in other allied industries such as iron and steel, thermal power plants, among others. 

Demand for coal also opens employment opportunities in the informal sector. Livelihood opportunities become available to the underserved, uneducated and those with limited access to alternative livelihoods opportunities. 

Jharkhand accounts for around 300,000 individuals employed within the illegal coal mining industry, of which 100,000 are children. Easy availability and cash payment have made the locals largely dependent on coal mining activities for sustenance. 

Mining activities also bring basic infrastructure facilities such as schools, hospitals, construction of improved transportation and communication to remote villages. Therefore, the decline of Jharkhand's coal industry could result in a loss of local jobs (both formal and informal), falling local and state government revenues and a decrease in corporate social responsibility funds from the industry. 

This will further degrade the socio-economic status of an already multidimensionally poor population. 

Achieving just transition 

The transition from coal will be just when sustainable and decent livelihood options are planned for the people who are dependent on coal and related industries for sustenance, according to the International Trade Union Confederation

Moreover, it should also focus on eradicating poverty and building resilient and thriving communities. It is therefore important that the roadmap to just transition in Jharkhand focuses on providing alternative livelihood opportunities and empowering the communities through targeted delivery of existing and new public welfare schemes.

Local CSOs in Jharkhand are crucial stakeholders to bring about just transition because of their on-ground presence and their direct links with the coal communities.

Several social organisations operational in the coal dominant districts of the state are already working with communities on issues of poverty alleviation, livelihoods generation, among others. Thus, they have a better understanding of the on-ground challenges. Here are some of the roles that CSOs can play:

  • Local CSOs have a better understanding of community aspirations, traditional knowledge and skills of the local people. This knowledge is crucial to develop sustainable economic diversification options for the community. For example, SAMVAD and SRIJAN FOUNDATION — two organizations working on similar issues in Jharkhand — suggested farm- and non-farm-based activities as alternate livelihood options. These include farming, horticulture, animal husbandry (poultry, goatery, piggery, cattle rearing), pisciculture, processing of forest products, labour work, traditional handicraft making and jewelry making.
  • CSOs can act as a link between the community and state government to better implement skills development initiatives and help people shift from illegal mining activities to formal job markets
  • CSOs can help empower communities by organising awareness campaigns to facilitate linkages with existing social security and other schemes of the government. The ISEP report suggested that lack of awareness is one of the reasons why rural people still lack access to basic amenities. 
  • CSOs can augment local support for energy transition and closing of coal mines through confidence-building social dialogues. Anchored open communication between the community, local politicians and the government can help in seamless transition. This will not just avoid any backlash during closures but also support building just transition policies that are futuristic and pragmatic. 
  • Another important role of the CSOs is hand-holding the local community. Behavior change communication needs to be done effectively and consistently to counter people’s perceived importance of coal. Activation of community-based organisations and front-line workers, whose capacities are developed to conduct this interpersonal communication with the community, is crucial. 

Energy transition will be just, only when it is community centric. Building community confidence through economic diversification and effective communication is thus quintessential. 

The state’s chief minister rightly points out: It is vital that a balance is struck between societal expectations, environmental preservation and economic growth. Every stakeholder, including the civil society organisations, need to understand their role to bring about a smooth transition.

Views expressed are the authors’ own and don’t necessarily reflect those of Down To Earth.

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