iForest local skills assessment of coal sector in India

Last updated: 3 August 2023

The International Forum for Environment, Sustainability & Technology (iFOREST), an independent non-profit environmental organisation based in New Delhi, India, released a landmark report on planning a just transition in the country’s largest coal and power district, Korba. In the early stages of planning a people-centred energy transition, it is necessary to gather data on employment and skills among the working population at the local level as a first step toward planning for employment redeployment and skills training needs. The government of India’s target to reach net zero emissions by 2070 and undertake a massive buildout of renewable energy capacity (500 GW by 2030) will require a phase out of coal production and consumption in the country in the coming decades, with a peaking of demand needed in ten years. 

Korba is not only the top coal producing region in India, but it is also one of the poorest, highlighting the acute dependence of people there on the coal economy. As part of the comprehensive study, iForest assessed the jobs dependency on the coal sector in Korba, finding that one in five workers is employed in the coal sector (coal mines, coal washeries, coal transport, power plants and fly ash brick units), either formally or informally. In the absence of official data on coal dependency, the study surveyed 600 households in Korba district to determine dependence on coal and to profile the workforce dependent on coal mining, coal-fired power plants and other related industries. It was estimated that at least 87 558 workers are employed formally or informally by the coal industry and power plants in Korba. The worker profile showed that 44% of the coal workforce were formal workers, employed by public sector coal mining company South Eastern Coalfields Limited and through private contractors in occupations such as machine operators, technicians and accountants. The remaining 56% were informal workers, often engaged through sub-contractors, in activities such as moving equipment, helping in loading and unloading and civil works in company-run facilities. The study also highlighted that the largest informal workforce is in the coal transport sector, particularly road transport, where nearly all workers are informal. The report noted that impacted informal mining workers will require skills training for new jobs, while for formal mining workers reskilling is needed for younger employees oriented toward Coal India’s shifting portfolio. For coal power plants, informal workers will require vocational training for new skills to find work elsewhere, with aluminium and steel plants noted as industries presenting opportunities. For drivers in coal transport and informal fly ash brick workers, who often have limited skill sets, new skills training will likely be needed. The report also identifies the need for investments in education to prepare the younger generation for jobs in other areas. 

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