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Devoid of Representation in Just Transition Policy, Trade Unions Cry Foul

The unions have claimed that decisions taken by top officials and their implementation on the ground will have an adverse impact if stakeholders of just transition are not paid heed.
coal mines

Open Cast Mine in Jharia. Photo by Saurav Kumar.

India’s premier state-owned coal producer, Coal India Limited (CIL), has sent shocking signals to trade unions of the coal sector by not consulting them on Just Transition (JT), the new policy on energy transition in India. 

Four central trade unions – Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), Hind Mazdoor Sangh (HMS), All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), and Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) – have slammed Coal India for partisan action and ignoring the representatives of lakhs of coal workers and coal-dependent population who would be affected after implementation of the new policy.

In the letter dated December 26, 2022, four trade unions had mentioned that there were consecutive meetings between the officials of the World Bank, the Ministry of Coal (Government of India), and CIL without any representative of the coal workers.

It has been more than a month with no clarification from the CIL to the trade unions.

The unions have claimed that decisions taken by top officials and their implementation on the ground will have an adverse impact if stakeholders of just transition are not paid heed. 

Considering workers as the crucial part of the policy, trade unions have vehemently opposed meetings and discussions on JT between government bodies and the World Bank.

Riding on resistance, trade unions have put forward the following demands: 

1.The ongoing exercise in the name of Just Transition must stop at the earliest because it does not include the fundamentals of social engagement.

2.Amid the ongoing discussions of Just Transition, crucial stakeholders i.e. workers and unions must be part of all layers of decision-making.

3.As per the Just Transition deal, the World Bank is going to provide a loan with a set of conditions. Trade Unions oppose condition-based help. If a rational energy transition is expected, various stakeholders (that include coal allied industries, trade unions, and affected populations) must have the knowledge and say in the expense of the amount.

4.Members of trade unions must be included in all committees of Just Transition because it is a Human Resource (HR) issue, not a technical one.

Expressing displeasure over bypassing of unions on Just Transition, CITU-affiliated All India Coal Workers' Federation’s (AICWF) general secretary D.D Ramanandan told NewsClick, “Coal Ministry and CIL are heading towards a disastrous decision by not allowing representatives of coal workers to be part of just transition. The one-sided decision-making cannot bring a fair result for those on the receiving end.”

Ramanandan claimed that the one-sided approach to energy transition will end up being an “unjust transition”.

After witnessing the recent talks on energy transition, trade unions have started awareness campaigns in coalfields to enlighten the masses about just transition.

The stand of Coal India still remains unclear on the issue. Calls, messages, and an email from NewsClick to the Director Personal of Coal India Limited were not answered.

Randhir Kumar, an official of the Bharat Coking Coal Limited (BCCL), a subsidiary of the CIL informed NewsClick: “Consulting trade unions during just transition discussions has not happened yet. But the issue is under consideration and soon notification may be announced.”

The Indian government along with the World Bank aims for a robust coal mine closure framework with a thrust on three major aspects of institutional governance, people and communities and environmental reclamation and land repurposing on the principles of just transition.

As per the official report of the World Bank, the project aims to continue for a decade in three phases namely:

A)  Institutional Governance

B)  People and Communities

C)  Environmental Reclamation and Repurposing of lands and  assets

Districts of Bokaro and Ramgarh in the state of Jharkhand are under consideration for Just Transition.

The official report also mentions that the World Bank has provided aid of $1.15 million to the Ministry of Coal in 2022 and claims to have engaged with various stakeholders.

In view of Just Transition, India has a total of 293 abandoned or closed coal mines, the government data shows. 

Just Transition Origin

The origin of the term ‘Just Transition’ is generally attributed to Tony Mazzochi, a leading North American trade unionist, who once said that “workers are the environment’s first line of defence”.

Mazzochi, a leader in the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers’ Union, sought the support of environmental groups to help fight the Shell Oil company over safety and health issues affecting workers

He was instrumental in bridging labour rights and the environmental movement. He fought for occupational, safety and health regulations and proposed, in the early 1990s, monetary support i.e. a fund for supporting workers displaced due to environmental policies. Labour organisations in the US quickly adopted the concept of a fair transition to an environmentally friendly society, and the idea eventually took shape internationally.

The just transition concept was brought to climate negotiations by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions as early as 1997, when the Kyoto Protocol was adopted. It was formally recognized in the preamble of the Paris Agreement, the UN climate treaty signed in 2015, the same year the International Labour Organization published a landmark set of guidelines for a just transition.

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