Purity vs. Potency: India’s Coal Dilemma

About 30,000 people are employed in the Singrauli mines, and thousands more work as casual laborers, and fear they will have no future without coal, even as climate change brings them hotter summers and heavy rains. out of season.

“You can see how bad the pollution situation is here. I know it’s bad for my health, but what will I do if the coal mines close? How will I feed my children? Declared the miner Vinod Kumar, whose haggard look belied his 31 years.

Northern Coalfields, a state-owned mining company, owns more than 80% of Singrauli’s coal assets, producing 130 million tonnes of fuel a year, and says it is trying to make its operations less polluting.

“We want to make the shipment of coal completely environmentally friendly,” company spokesman Ram Vijay Singh said. “We also run free camps every year to screen for health problems among the local population.”

But activists say such piecemeal measures are pointless.

“There are machines and techniques that can reduce pollution, but companies are not serious about it,” Namdev said.

“There are so many anti-pollution guidelines but these are flouted with impunity. All they care about is making quick profits.”


Across India, more than 13 million people are employed in coal mining and related industries, according to Harjeet Singh of the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative, a campaign group.

“A brutal phase-out of coal in India could lead to economic disruption,” he said. “In a country where a large population depends on coal for their income and energy, we must ensure social justice in the transition to a future without fossil fuels.”

And for some residents of Singrauli, their biggest complaint is that they are not taking advantage of the environmental carnage that surrounds them.

Occasional worker and part-time alcohol distiller Uma Devi, 50, lives in a thatched mud house on the edge of a coal mine owned by Reliance, an Indian conglomerate run by the richest man from Asia, Mukesh Ambani.

“We have been begging them to give us work for two years but they are not listening to us,” she said. “They brought in people from outside to work for them.

“Every time a blast happens it breaks our eardrums. The government makes money for it but we get nothing in return except pollution.”

She cannot afford the cost of 900 rupees (US $ 12) for a gas cylinder, so every day she cooks her family’s food on a fire made from scavenged charcoal.

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