On 28 April, Leisang in Manipur became the final village in the country to be connected to the power grid, and the Indian government declared that it had achieved 100-percent electrification. However, government data indicates that nearly million households continue to live in the dark. The next day, the union power minister announced a deadline of 31 December 2018 for uninterrupted power supply to every household in India.
These aggressive power-generation plans rely staggeringly on coal, which accounts for a majority share of India’s energy sources. Environmentalists and public-health advocates have been warning us about the dangers of this energy policy for years. However, in July, the Supreme Court pulled up the union government for extending its own deadline for thermal power plants to reduce their harmful emissions to below specified limits by five years, to 2022. Ninety-five percent of new plants reportedly do not have the requisite equipment to limit pollution. As a result, the extraction of coal and its extensive use in power generation continues to leave a path ridden with disease in its wake.
With 10 power plants and 16 coal mines, the Singrauli-Sonbhadra region in central India is called the country’s energy capital. It is also one of the most critically polluted areas of the country. Jagat Narayan Vishwakarma, who petitioned the National Green Tribunal in 2013 seeking justice for the local community, told us that an estimated 500 people die in the region every year due to medical complications arising from the contamination of the air they breathe and the water they drink. “The Coal Within” is a series of video testimonials of those having to bear the tremendous physical costs of our unsustainable energy policy.
At Belwadah, ash slurry from the Anpara Thermal Power Plant mixes into the Rihand river, the main water source in the region. Compounding the issue, the pipes carrying the slurry often leak, further contaminating the ground water. A 2012 study by the Centre for Science and Environment confirmed that fluoride, mercury and arsenic content in the water, soil and fish samples it analysed were much higher than permissible limits. This has a disastrous impact—in this video, 50-year-old Rajkumar Devi traces her blood cancer and kidney issues to the establishment of the nearby coal plant.