Economy

Short Documentary Highlights the Painful Consequences of India’s Coal Rush

One of the first pledges made by Narendra Modi’s government was that it would look to double the amount of coal India extracted, from the 565 million tons in 2014 to 1 billion tonnes by 2020. The government said it was a necessary measure to ensure development as well as provide power to the estimated 300 million Indians who don’t have access to electricity.

In the year since, mining permits and environmental clearances have been granted at a rapid pace. The zeal for new mines has been matched by the crackdown on dissent, most notably on environmental groups such as Greenpeace. And communities in coal-rich belts in states like Chhattisgarh say they’re facing unprecedented pressure to give up their lands for mining. Laws empowering these communities have been placed under review.

Even though it is India’s most abundant and easily accessible fuel, scientists say India’s decision to back coal will have devastating consequences on the health of the country’s population as well as the environment. The country already has 13 of the world’s 20 most polluted cities, and an estimated 230,000 people are likely to die each year because of air pollution caused by burning coal, according to a study by Urban Emissions.

This documentary has visual journalists Vikram Singh and Enrico Fabian traveled from the burning coalfields of Jharia to the coal-fired power plants of Chhattisgarh to document the impact of India’s growing appetite for coal. Their previous work includes Toxic Legacy, a film on the Bhopal survivors ongoing fight for justice and Deadly Medicine, which looked at pharmaceutical drug abuse in India.