Jharkhand climate change meet discusses ‘just transition’ to coal-free future

The urgency to implement the Provisions of the Panchayat Extension of Scheduled Act (PESA) in Jharkhand, the immediacy of involving gram sabhas in decentralising development and the plan to think about a parallel economy once the coal extraction is stopped in the next 10-15 years. These were some of the key points that emerged during a day-long discussion on climate change and its impact on Jharkhand and the roadmap for a “just transition”.

The event was organised by ASAR and the Policy & Development Advisory Group in Ranchi. The panellists included rural development secretary Manish Ranjan and mines secretary Abu Bakr Siddique from the Jharkhand government along with people from academia and civil society.

Anjal Prakash, research director at the Bharti School Of Public Policy, spoke on the need to leverage local knowledge, on how research could help to bring out reports of micro-level climate change patterns and about the need to involve educational institutes such as IIM in climate research work. He, however, questioned the state government’s action plan on the climate front.

In another session on understanding the role of decentralised renewable energy in the scheme of things, Ramesh Sharan, director of the Eastern Regional Centre of the Institute of Human Development, said, “We need decentralised development first. At freedom fighter Birsa Munda’s village, there is a solar panel set up for electricity, but the key is with the contractor where the villagers can’t even use it. In some villages, the solar-operated water tanks are not working, and there is no process of feedback…PESA has not been implemented in its true spirit in Jharkhand, but things are changing slowly.”

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The implementation of the Provisions of the PESA has been a matter of contention in the state. According to the last economic survey report, out of 24 districts, 16 districts of the state are fully or partially covered under the Act. However, the survey said, “Except for the restricted sale of intoxicants, owning minor forest-products, preventing land alienation and control over money lending, all other provisions of PESA have been fulfilled in the state.” Amid constant pressure by civil society, the government has for the first time made draft PESA rules for consultation recently.

Siddique, who recently took over the department, spoke on how minerals gave a revenue of roughly Rs 6,000 crore to the state and said seventy per cent of this came from coal. He emphasised on the role of District Mineral Foundation Trust (DMFT) in development work. A part of the revenue collected from the mining companies and contractors, among others, will be used as DMFT funds to cater for those affected by mining and related operations. Siddique also spoke on the role of gram sabhas in the DMFT implementation.

However, a recent audit of DMFT funds conducted by the state’s principal auditor general in six districts pointed to the diversion of funds, such as for building a dak bungalow in Ranchi and gyms in Bokaro as well as for procuring furniture for a deputy commissioner’s office. This when nothing was spent from DMFT funds in Jharia, the biggest coal mining-affected area in the state.

Siddique mentioned the audit report and said, “It is sad that during the DMFT implementation, gram sabhas have not been consulted…(But) I extend my appreciation for such a discussion on climate change. For a very long time we couldn’t have such discussions. For a just transition, we need to have a clear-cut idea.”

Once the coal mining is finally stopped in the next 10-15 years as envisaged to check global warming, Ashim Roy, founder of the Chemical Mazdoor Panchayat, said, “The government needs to act now as it means that Rs 6,000-crore revenue will be lost and it means that money going to social sectors from this amount will also be stopped, affecting the entire state. The government needs to formulate a policy to tackle this shift.”

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