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Indian coal hub juggles need for jobs with hope for greener future

Dwarka Prasad, 24, believes he is on the cusp of landing his dream role driving a dumper truck at a coal mine in eastern India - although he wonders if it will be a job for life.

"My father drove big excavators in mines and I have found work already to drive trucks to transport coal, but I hope to bag a job for driving a dumper in a mining area as it pays more."He currently earns 24,000 rupees a month transporting coal but is sure that will rise to 35,000 rupees working at one of the 50 new mines set to be auctioned in Angul, of which five are due to be opened by 2023, according to local officials.

Many locals lack the skills needed for the best-paid roles and end up doing odd jobs for a daily wage while mining companies bring in trained workers from other parts of India.

At the same time, the district - one of India's top coal-producing areas - is surveying communities to learn about their aspirations when coal is phased out and the mines are eventually shut down, as well as speaking to environmental experts, officials said.

"The economy will grow and they have 20 years to plan it."Coal mines currently provide about 725,000 direct jobs and many more indirect jobs in India, and along with lignite mines, account for about a fifth of the nearly 270,000 core roles the mining sector is estimated to create by 2025, research shows.

Many of these new jobs will be in Angul, where opportunities in mining are set to expand through to 2040 as the area boosts its coal production capacity, a recent iFOREST report said.

Angul's administrative head, Siddhartha Shankar Swain, said the area was moving into a phase of deep coal production, but added that when a new mine opens "It comes with a closure date".

Discussions v reality Meetings are being held in India with researchers, bringing coal companies and labour unions together to discuss the impact of mine closures on workers and local economies.

Surveys in Angul showed mining remains the preferred bet for local people, said Stalin Nayak, founder of non-profit PanTISS, which works with mining-affected communities in eastern India and runs the training programme in Angul that helped Prasad. "They are most interested in getting skilled in operating heavy equipment as it fetches the best salary in coal mines," he said.

"Coal is a reality for them - renewable energy a dream." Sanjay Sharma, CEO of the Skill Sector Council for Mining, an autonomous government body, said locals were reluctant to move to other states for work and wanted jobs close to home

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