Extracting Environmental Justice: Countering Technical Renditions of Pollution in India's Coal Industry

Document Type


Publication Date



Environmental Studies



Publication Title

The Extractive Industries and Society


Coal extraction and processing remains at the heart of energy security in India. As ever larger amounts of electricity are produced to support overall economic growth, this creates environmental justice challenges as people in the coal-producing areas are exposed to perilous air pollution levels. Federal technocrats shape the environmental governance of coal, prioritizing energy security and de-emphasizing the environmental health risks associated with coal extraction and processing. We argue that these technocrats render the pollution technical to continue the expansion of the nation’s energy supply. In response, pollution-affected people in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh increasingly attempt to take technical approaches to contest high levels of pollution to counter the government’s claims about acceptable levels of pollution. This tactic relies on an increased ability to counter expert pollution data collection and analysis. The approach requires connections with wider civil society networks who have the technical and legal knowledge required to quantify and judicially contest air pollution practices. Given conditions of great regulatory uncertainty in spite of well-developed legal norms, we conclude that a strategy based on long-term community cohesion and awareness-building, combined with independent air pollution monitoring by the impacted stakeholders, are crucial for sustained coal pollution mitigation.


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