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 governmentfor 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.
Vimlesh Sawhney is a 40-year-old driver working for Northern Coalfields, a subsidiary of Coal India Limited. Every day, he transports coal from the open cast mines abutting his village of Chilkadand. As with the other residents of the village, coal dust is an eternal companion—embedding itself on his hands, making its way into his lungs, eating away at his insides. He doesn’t see himself being able to work for much longer, a decade at the most. When he is done, he says, the company will just cast him aside and hire someone new. But the toll of his job will stay with him for the rest of his life.