"You Can't Eat Coal"
Eastern India, in a mineral rich belt extending from Jharkhand through Odisha to Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh, is home to over 70 percent of India’s coal reserves. And it is here that around 300,000 small-scale illegal coal miners subsist through a combination of scavenging from large-scale working and abandoned coal mines, and the working of their own small underground mines.
India’s rapid economic growth in recent years has placed huge new demands on the country’s power infrastructure and in turn, this has brought about a rapid expansion in the country’s coal industry. Currently around one new coal mine each month is opening and coal output is projected to double in the five years leading to 2020. Massive new mines have penetrated into some of the country’s richest and most fertile agriculture lands because it is here that the highest grade coal provinces are also found. Pristine forest areas are being destroyed at a rapid rate.
Forced from the lands on which their survival has depended for centuries, many of India’s adivasis (indigenous peoples) have turned to mining and hawking the very mineral which has brought them to near destruction. They have become transitory citizens forced to survive through illegal means on lands they have walked for centuries. Because in India only the State and instruments of the State can legally mine for coal.