Lead Story

Coal Killer

How it is Indians Vs Indians in the race for a green economy

Published 9 months ago on Sep 01, 2022 20 minutes Read
Young workers breaking coal in an abandoned mine in Jharia in Dhanbad to make Rs 100 to Rs 200 daily. Photos: Tribhuvan Tiwari

Tunnu is just six years old, but he is already part of a group of young children that walks on a treacherous path every day to reach an underground coal mine in the Dhanbad area of Jharkhand. Through a cave-like entrance, the children are greeted to many levels of mines on the steep sides at different heights—the closest one from the top being about 50 metres below the ground. The way down to the mine is so dangerous that one wrong step can cost the little Tunnu his life.

“We break coal and fill 50 to 60 kilogrammes of it in a sack. Older people lift the sack on the head and carry it out to their houses,” Tunnu says. He adds, “A guy comes on a dumper on certain days in a week and collects these sacks from us at around Rs 50 per sack. We are told that this coal is taken to other states, like West Bengal and Bihar, for sale at a higher price.”

People have been losing their lives in these unsafe and illegal mines for years now, but making a living in some of the poorest regions in India requires one to overcome the fear of death. Coal has been the lifeline for millions of people in Jharkhand—a state rich in natural resources but also the third poorest in India with a per capita income of less than $2 per day—and its neighbouring states for over two centuries. However, over the next three decades, their lives are going to change.

At the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) held in Glasgow last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made five promises to the world: India’s non-fossil fuel energy capacity will touch 500 gigawatts (GW) by 2030; India will meet 50% of its energy requirement from renewable energy; there will be a reduction of total projected carbon emissions by one billion tonnes by 2030 from the 2021 level; the carbon intensity of the economy will be reduced by 45% by 2030 over the 2005 levels; and, India will become a net-zero economy by 2070.