A new report charts way for alternate livelihoods in coal-heavy Jharkhand
A new report called ‘Livelihood opportunities for a Just Transition in Jharkhand’ by Delhi-based think-tank Climate Trends mapped out the implications of an energy transition in Jharkhand, with a focus on alternative livelihoods for coal sector workers. The report is based on a state-level survey with 6,000 organised and unorganised coal sector workers, working in the mines and thermal power plants across the state.
The report found that the adaptive capacity of workers was observed to be heavily reliant on their transferable skills and their finances. It was found that 35% workers did not have any savings to provide a small buffer in the case of an immediate cessation of their current employment in the coal sector.
Finding greener pastures
Although workers remained optimistic about pivoting to alternate industries in case of loss of livelihood, given their level of skills, they still had certain apprehensions in terms of transferring their skill set to alternate sectors. Among all workers, it was found that 45% believed that they did not have the requisite skills to work in their alternate sector of choice and 94% workers reported never having participated in any training programme.
According to the report, a majority of 85% workers expressed their willingness to engage in skilling or reskilling training programmes to pivot to alternate livelihood opportunities. Coal sector workers showed their willingness to work in agriculture and allied sectors, in case of loss of current livelihood source, with 32% workers favouring it as their first choice; followed by 30% workers choosing the manufacturing sector as their second choice and 27% opting for mining of other minerals as their third choice. The report mentioned that 82% of coal sector workers also preferred migrating within Jharkhand in search of alternate livelihood opportunities.
In terms of alternate industries in the state that workers could transition to, the potential for the renewable energy sector was also explored. The report mentioned that while government stakeholders and policymakers were optimistic about the potential and future of renewable energy in Jharkhand, at its present state, the transition from coal to renewable energy will be gradual. However, the report clarified that this sector would be unable to absorb a large number of displaced coal workers in the future.
The report revealed that only 24% workers (engaged in any training programme that provides alternate skills for employment outside of the coal sector) were involved in attending training in the renewable energy sector.
The report also highlighted that ‘just’ transition initiatives around alternate skilling have to be targeted towards 18- to 45-year-old coal sector workers — who form 72.2% of the workforce interviewed in the research.
Lack of awareness was also significant amongst the workers. Among all workers, 59% did not have any information about the closure of coal mines and 87% did not have any information about the closure of power plants in their vicinity. While a vast majority of the workers were unaware of any developments in the coal sector, with only 14% of workers aware of any government plans for reducing the production of coal in the future, the awareness levels were slightly poorer among unorganised workers. Therefore, the lack of requisite channels makes unorganised workers more vulnerable to shocks and inhibits them from staying informed and being prepared.
Challenges and solutions
To counter the lack of awareness on coal mine closure timelines and government plans at the state level and among coal industry workers, administration should facilitate open forums and seminars to explain coal phase-down activities and tentative timelines and assuage workers’ concerns regarding jobs and loss of livelihood. In addition, identifying sunrise sectors to catalyse investment in them, especially in areas where mines already exist will help.
The increasing livelihood dependency on the coal sector in the short term due to the high demand for coal is a major challenge for policymakers. The report recommended mapping skill sets of coal sector workers with existing industries in the state that have the potential to grow. The report added that taking cognizance of the impact on unorganised workers and the local community arising from mine closures, the ‘Guidelines for the Management of Mines discontinued/ abandoned/ closed before the year 2009’ should be updated.
To fight livelihood loss due to closing of small and underground mines in the short term, the government may make it mandatory, through orders, for private companies to inform which mines they plan on shutting at least a year in advance so that timely action can be taken to rehabilitate displaced workers. The report added that coal industries should provide severance pay and benefits to workers that will be losing their jobs and relocate employees to new mines that they will be opening while ensuring travel and relocation allowances for the same. Here, the responsibility to actively participate in training, skill development, and education programs of the government lie with the coal sector workers.
Enabling the inclusion of net-zero and energy transition goals in the central bank’s mandate for percolation to the rest of the financial sector, along with establishing a cess for energy transition activities, will ensure availability of finance for energy transition and alternate livelihoods.
CarbonCopy reported earlier how central and state governments revenue will take a hit while transitioning away from coal. Promoting livelihood generation schemes while developing and sustaining sunrise sectors could help prevent a shock to the economy, said the report.