India’s first plan for a socially equitable shift away from coal in areas where mines have been closed will include a survey of local people, alternative jobs for them and efforts to protect basic services from the effects, according to government officials.

Work on the plan – for which the government is seeking support from the World Bank – will begin this month, with field surveys of two mining districts in eastern India, federal ministry officials said. coal to the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Preliminary reports will be submitted to the government within a year, but the timeline for the “just transition” project is about eight years and it will cost at least $1 billion, they added.

Bhabani Prasad Pati, co-secretary of the coal ministry, which oversees the plan, said it would cover mines that are already closed, abandoned mines and mines that are to be closed in the next few years due to the depletion of their resources.

“A lot of people lose their livelihoods when the mines close. The people around these coal belts are poor,” he said.

“They should have honorable living conditions even after the mines close. Schools and roads built during mining should be maintained,” he added.

There are more than 290 abandoned or closed coal mines in India, according to government data.

But with few alternative options, most people still depend on planet-heating fossil fuels to live despite years of mining destroying their crops and polluting local water and air.

Officials said the plan would focus on mines that have already been closed or are slated for closure, and would not be extended to others in order to accelerate a transition to clean energy.

But the lessons learned from the two districts will be useful in the future as India greens its energy mix, officials noted.

At the UN’s COP26 climate summit in November, India said it could not commit to ‘phasing out’ coal given its growing energy demand and the many millions of jobs it would create. depend, and got weaker language in the Glasgow Climate Pact.

The position has been welcomed in coal-rich regions of the country who fear a threat to their main source of income and tax revenue.

India, the world’s third-largest energy consumer, is aggressively increasing its renewable energy capacity to reach a target of 500 gigawatts by 2030, while boosting coal generation to meet energy needs growing, securing its energy supplies and taking advantage of its vast coal reserves.

HOLISTIC VIEW

With India likely to use coal for another four decades, experts said work on a national “just transition” strategy is critical as it seeks to meet renewable energy targets and comes under increasing pressure to wean off fossil fuels.

India is set to receive funding to help it transition away from coal along with three other countries, as part of a $2.5 billion initiative launched at COP26 by the Climate Investment Fund multi-donor, although the details have not yet been defined.

Under the new plan for closed mines currently being discussed, Indian officials said community rehabilitation activities would be funded by the World Bank and the money would be earmarked by states and mining companies for the property. -being social, among other sources.

India did not have proper mine closure guidelines before 2009. Officials said they are now seeking technical expertise from the World Bank to better understand the socio-economic impact of such closures on the people and their livelihoods.

“Previously, we were only looking at the technical and environmental aspects of mine closure. But now we are discussing how our guidelines should look at society and the community holistically,” said manager Pati.

Geospatial data is being prepared on the number, location and size of closed mines, and the number of people who depend on them for a living, he noted, adding that the new plan would apply the principles of ” just transition”.

A World Bank spokesperson said by email that India’s coal ministry had sought the bank’s support to build on global best practices and develop transition plans in consultation with communities and other key partners.

The aim of the bank’s work on just transition in India and beyond is to put people and the environment at the center of a green shift, and to help workers and their communities build a new economic future. fair and inclusive, he added.

‘NO JOB’

The two districts identified for the initial field surveys – Bokaro in East Jharkhand state and Korea in Chhattisgarh – have a total of 38 mines, 18 of which are not functioning.

In Bokaro, 12 of 25 mines are in operation, with the rest having closed in the last five years – some due to a lack of technical clearance, some merging with larger nearby mines and a few depleting their reserves.

In the district of Korea, six of the 13 mines are no longer working, at least two for twenty years.

Local officials said each mine supported thousands of families.

District mining official Triveni Dewangan stressed that coal remains a key source of income. “If this is closed, there will be nothing left,” she said.

India is the world’s second largest coal producer, with about 730 million tonnes per year, after China. Its mining and coal-fired power plants provide direct and indirect jobs to nearly 4 million people in the country, according to researchers.

As large areas of India’s coal-rich regions have been affected by mining, Sanjay Vashist, director of the Climate Action Network South Asia, said successful just transition plans would require economic and environmental rehabilitation. for landowners, as well as community involvement.

The country must prepare people in mining centers who have moved away from traditional occupations – mainly agriculture – to return to them or give them new employable skills, he added.

Growing up in Chirmiri Municipal Division in the Korean District, local politician Shyam Bihari Jaiswal said that of the nine mines operating there in 1993, six had closed.

“There’s a lot of labor here, but no work,” the former lawmaker said.

“The few people who earn from mining support vegetable vendors, launderers (and) clothing stores. Only that money flows into the local economy,” he said.

Cottage industries for handmade toys and crafts, and tourism based around local temples, waterfalls and natural caves could help boost the region’s economy, he added.