Just transition: Digital literacy can help youth dependant on coal sector move into other fields, finds IIT study

Digital media platforms like;WhatsApp, Facebook and YouTube can also be used to educate the youth on just transition
Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock

High levels of digital literacy can help the youth working in India’s coal sectors to find alternate employment opportunities, a new study showed. This is vital for India as the country gears itself to phase down coal and reach its Net Zero targets by 2070. 

WhatsApp, Facebook and YouTube are the three most popular digital media platforms among young people, who are some of the critical stakeholders of just transition, according to the study by the Just Transition Research Centre, part of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Kanpur. 

Furthermore, these communication channels can be used to educate the youth on just transition activities, the researchers recommended.

According to the National Youth Policy of 2014, ages between 15 to 29 are considered the youth population, but the IIT researchers focused on adults between 18 to 29.

The researchers interviewed 900 people, of which around 400 respondents belonged to the youth demographic in Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.

In UP, the youth studied were employed by Panki Thermal Power Station, Obra Thermal Power Station and Singrauli Coalfieds. In WB, they were employed by Bandel Thermal Power Station, Santalidh Thermal Power Station and Raniganj Coalfields.

Within the age group of 18-25 years, around 86 per cent of youngsters access internet / social media through mobile phones, Riti Chatterjee, co-author and post-doctoral researcher at IIT Kanpur, told Down To Earth. “We can, therefore, leverage digital media to equip the young generation with digitally-aligned jobs, such as search engine optimization, marketing, data analytics website and application development.”

She added: 

As Whatsapp is the most popular method of communication observed in our study, it can be an appropriate tool for sensitisation and communication of the Just Transition agenda as they have been living in the coal belts for generations.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced during the 26th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change that India will try to reach Net Zero emissions by 2070. 

However, at the same time, due to short-term challenges such as increasing power demand, India plans to produce 1.2 billion tonnes of coal by 2023-2024.

The coal industry is estimated to directly or indirectly employ 3.6 million people, since it is the source of a majority of the country’s electricity, according to a study published by the University of British Columbia in 2021.

Officials from Coal India Ltd, however, told the media organisation Informist that the company plans to reduce its non-executive workforce by around 60 per cent over the next 6-7 years. This is to  “improve operational efficiency and financial performance”, the company cited.

In coal-dominant regions, a majority of the youth workforce is still employed in coal companies; a considerable part of the population works as daily wage labourers. 

In these regions, even the youth who are not coal employees indirectly depend on coal as they run their businesses in company townships, the IIT report noted.

Most of the youth surveyed by IIT researchers were either employed through contractors or were in contractual positions. This was because companies wanted to exploit certain loopholes. They did not have to provide them with social security and cannot be held liable for them under labour laws, the authors found.

Permanent jobs in the coal industry are now becoming difficult to find and even tougher to keep, the report stated. Despite these difficulties, “they specifically want environmental protection, but at the same time they want to retain their current livelihood options”, Chatterjee said. 

The study recommended an easy solution: Information and Communication Technology skills in the green and smart economy has a twofold benefit because it speeds up the transition to green growth while also supporting job creation.

“Training plans can include development and incorporation of youth’s digital, communication, and networking abilities into the just transition training programmes,” the study added.

Related Stories

No stories found.
Down To Earth