Caste of India’s coal

India adopted the ‘Just transition’ policy under the Paris Agreement 2015 and further reinforced its commitment to achieve net zero by 2070 at Glasgow in 2021.
The country’s commitment at the international forum will at some point lead to the phasing down of coal.
The country’s commitment at the international forum will at some point lead to the phasing down of coal.

NEW DELHI: India’s energy transition from coal to clean energy is at its crossroads. It poses significant challenges to millions of people belonging to the lower and backward castes, who are directly or indirectly engaged in the coal supply chain. They could end up losing their sole source of livelihood, which would limit their access to education and the health infrastructure.

A new study, “At the Crossroads: Marginalised Communities and the Just Transition Dilemma” carried out by the National Foundation for India (NFI), explored these questions on socio-economic inequality in coal and coal-allied districts in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Odisha.

India adopted the ‘Just transition’ policy under the Paris Agreement 2015 and further reinforced its commitment to achieve net zero by 2070 at Glasgow in 2021. Under its international obligation, India started legislating policy and schemes to decarbonise its energy and shift to cleaner fuels and technology.

The country’s commitment at the international forum will at some point lead to the phasing down of coal. It will result in job losses for coal miners and workers, which will have a ripple effect on the local economy. Such workers will no longer have their source of income, making it difficult to sustain their families. A consequent drop in the local economy will follow.

Mined coal fuels India’s energy security, which is indispensable for industrial and technological advancement. As much as 75% of the country’s power generation relies on coal-fired plants. The fuel’s phase out will lead to decrease in the demand of coal, leaving millions of coal workers and thousands of power plant workers in the lurch.

However, phasing out of coal will have a positive impact on the environment and benefit the overall health of the economy. “Prevalent theory of energy transition is mostly debated through the lens of sustainability transition and does not sufficiently address the complex inter-mingled web of governance, laws and bodies for different components of energy, land, coal mining and communities,” said Biraj Patnaik, executive director, NFI.

‘Unjust’ energy transition

The study highlights that around 82% of the population engaged in the coal-related economy surveyed in six districts, hails from the Other Backward Classes (OBCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs), and Scheduled Castes (SCs). Around 42% of them fall under the OBC category, 23% STs and 17% SCs.

People from the marginalised communities in coal-dependent districts, such as Koriya, Dhanbad and Ramgarh, have high engagement ratios in coal-sector occupations — 39%, 42.14%, and 18.7%, respectively. In contrast, households from the general categories engaged in coal in Koriya, Dhanbad and Ramgarh comprise just 3%, 7% and nil, respectively.

The report sheds light on the disproportionate impact of coal transition on the marginalised and backward communities as they constitute a major part of the workforce. However, the caste equation gets different in coal-allied districts like Angul and Jajpur of Odisha.

In Angul, 5.5%, 6.6% and 27.8% of SCs, STs, and OBCs respectively are working in the coal sector, which is a clear shift from what was observed in other districts.

Angul and Jajpur-like districts have diversified industries like mining, power and metallurgy and other downstream units. They have a higher presence of people from the general or upper castes. It also reflects on the income side. The median income of Angul is the highest (Rs 30,000/month) among all six districts studied while it is the lowest in Ramgarh (Rs 6,000/month) where the presence of the general category is almost nil.

It is clear from the study that members of lower and backward castes earn less than their general caste counterparts in coal and coal-allied districts. Besides, Dhanbad and Koriya - which are solely reliant on coal production - reported lower incomes compared to more diversified industrial districts like Angul.

Further, the living condition of most of the people in the coal and coal-allied districts is distressing. The report underlines the prevalence of respiratory ailments and skin issues due to prolonged exposure to coal related pollutants. It also observed that the affected people are concerned about women’s safety, limited educational opportunities, caste-based inequalities and inadequate access to basic services.

“The findings highlight the stark caste-based inequalities in access to education and livelihood opportunities in coal-dependent regions,” said Patnaik.

The study suggests a framework for community-specific policies and robust institutional mechanisms to address the socio-economic impacts of coal transition on the marginalised communities. They include upskilling the largely under-educated workforce as well as rehabilitation and compensation with coordination and cooperation at the Centre, state and local levels.

Related Stories

No stories found.

X
The New Indian Express
www.newindianexpress.com