This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Apoorva Satpathy. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Phasing Out Fossil Fuels: View From A Dying Indian Coal-Mining Community

Renewables will be consistently cheaper than fossil fuels in the coming two years, says a recent cost study from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). The intergovernmental agency publishes reports like “Renewable Power Generation Costs in 2017” to help inform policy-makers around the world about the feasibility of the energy transition.

I currently work as an intern on the statistics team at IRENA’s headquarters in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates. In this role, I attended IRENA’s annual general assembly in January, followed by the World Future Energy Summit, where energy leaders and policy-makers advocated for renewables to reduce carbon intensity. Over the past week, I have followed the tweets from the World Economic Forum in Davos, where France has pledged to join a growing league of countries in shutting down coal plants completely.

As important as I believe these issues are, none of these forums could seem farther away from my birthplace in Ramgarh district, Jharkhand. My home is still the struggling West Bokaro colliery.

Bokaro coal mine (Image source: Jay Sheth/Facebook)

As the name suggests, the town depends on a coal mine for its livelihood. Yet the local community, once comparatively prosperous for the area, is vanishing bit by bit – all due to the continuous blasting of the surface and the digging (at increasing depths) to fetch coal. As the pits widen, the town could soon vanish from the map of India, leaving me with a non-existent birthplace in my passport.

Reliance on fossil fuels – and coal, in particular – is indisputably harmful to our collective health and welfare. People in mining communities are the first- and worst-affected.

“The encroachment of the mines in the residential areas has severely multiplied the cases of respiratory infections – such as the multi-drug resistant tuberculosis and coal worker’s pneumoconiosis, along with the hardening of water (due to contaminated soil) leading to an increased number of patients with gall bladder and kidney stone formations,” says Dr BK Sahu, head consultant, surgery, in the hospital in the West Bokaro colliery.

“A transition to renewable energy would reduce the area’s terrestrial contamination and provide some relief to West Bokaro Colliery’s asthma patients,” he adds.

Yet, while the government weighs its options for increasing the share of renewables in the national energy mix, people in coal-mining communities fear the loss of their livelihood. I, too, worry about the loss of my childhood – the setting of stories that I hope to recount to my grandchildren one day as I implore them to go there for a visit.

Yet, the town’s destiny remains tied to the mine – whether we like it or not.

“Mining is still a part of the project for the coming 30-40 years – and then, the town will not exist anymore,” says BV Sudhir, the chief engineer from the West Bokaro colliery.

Anil Rout, senior manager of the coal beneficiation plant, says that the town’s residents will be helped and relocated to the nearby cities of Ranchi and Ramgarh.

“The residents are asked to shift to the nearby cities as the tentative time for complete evacuation is almost 10 years,” he says.  “Eventually the whole population must be shifted, for the area has to be excavated completely,” he adds.

The town is dying and I am helpless. What steps can my country take to save my birthplace? Will shutting down the mines help? What will happen to the workers of the mines who are heavily dependent on it? These questions put me in a dilemma whenever the idea of phasing out coal completely comes into discussion.

Renewable energy is surely a clean option – and it is certainly a way to make the energy transition happen. Still, to stop everything suddenly doesn’t seem to be a healthy solution either. There’s an entire population dependent on it – either as mine workers or in the form of the small shops taking care of the needs of these workers. Directly or indirectly, everyone in the area will suffer if the transition happens too rapidly.

‘Energy democracy’, including a just transition to sustainable practices, will be essential as India’s fossil fuel usage is phased out.

India has to come up with suitable policies, labour and sector-level development plans, along with institutional arrangements, to ensure that this transition is effective and sustainable. Such policies should encompass the growth of sustainability programmes or organisations, creation of jobs and regulation of investments for the same. Low-carbon transition (as a climate action) is identified as a way forward by many organisations and collaborators.

In this context, it would perhaps be relevant to note that We Mean Business is a global coalition of non-profit groups advocating for a just, sustainable energy transition.

In managing these crucial changes, governments have to be aware of how situations of energy poverty and social injustice can crop up unexpectedly, especially in the absence of holistic planning and broad consultation. Public-private partnerships and the mobilisation of grants or finances can aid the transition process. Adoption of green practices and greening economies can help build a climate-congenial environment.

Apart from the slogans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the news about countries forging ahead to shut down coal plants, I wonder when India will take that bold step – keeping in mind the pace of our economic development and our surging energy demand.

Another recent analysis from IRENA, “Water Use in India’s Power Generation”, says that the country can generate 61% of its energy from renewable sources by 2030 – offering a flicker of hope regarding reducing dependency on fossil fuels.

While the energy transformation lies, to a large extent, in the hands of the higher-level decision-makers, I hope it can save small towns with dirty coal mines – like Bokaro.


Featured image used for representative purposes only.

Featured image source: Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images
You must be to comment.

More from Apoorva Satpathy

Similar Posts

By Divya Arvind Patel

By raj kosaraju

By Merril Diniz

    If you do not receive an email within the next 5 mins, please check your spam box or email us at

      If you do not receive an email within the next 5 mins, please check your spam box or email us at

        If you do not receive an email within the next 5 mins, please check your spam box or email us at

        Wondering what to write about?

        Here are some topics to get you started

        Share your details to download the report.

        We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

        Share your details to download the report.

        We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

        An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

        Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

        Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

        The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

        Read more about his campaign.

        Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

        Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

        Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

        Read more about her campaign.

        MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

        With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

        Read more about her campaign. 

        A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

        As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

        Find out more about the campaign here.

        A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

        She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

        Read more about the campaign here.

        A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

        The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

        Read more about the campaign here.

        A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

        As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

        Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

        Find out more about her campaign here.

        Share your details to download the report.

        We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

        A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

        A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

        Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

        A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
        biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

        Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
        campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

        Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below