People the world over can now try to put themselves in the position of Adivasi communities living next to one of India’s largest coal mines. Many of them have been displaced without their consent and are yet to be compensated or consulted, in violation of Indian and international law, said Amnesty International India and Memesys Culture Lab today, at the launch of The Cost of Coal, a 360° virtual reality story.

The film, shot in a 360 Virtual Reality (VR) format, is directed by Faiza Ahmad Khan, who has been making documentaries for the last eight years, including the award-winning Supermen of Malegaon. The film and story are available on ElseVR, Asia’s first VR platform for narrative non-fiction and journalism.

“The film transports you to the source of the energy we consume, and witnesses the casualties of myopic industrial practices executed in our favour,” said Anand Gandhi, filmmaker and the director of Memesys Culture Lab. “Virtual Reality is a medium that enables intimate insights into experiences happening elsewhere.”

“I hope the film helps people see and feel for themselves what it’s like to live around the dominant source of our electricity, and empathise with communities who’ve been pushed to the edge,” said Aruna
Chandrasekhar, a writer and researcher who visited Korba as part of Amnesty International India’s research looking at human rights violations in three state-owned coal mines.

The film was shot around the Kusmunda mine in the district of Korba, a protected Adivasi district in the state of Chhattisgarh. The mine is operated by South Eastern Coalfields Limited, a subsidiary of Coal India Limited, India’s biggest coal miner and the world’s largest coal producer. Spread over 3500 hectares, it is set to become one of Asia’s largest coal mines, which may eventually displace up to 9250 families from 17 villages.

“I am very proud that you people have made this film about my life. If it can make your friends in cities feel even 10 percent of what my family has gone through, then it is a good thing,” said Nirupabai, a Kanwar Adivasi woman who lived in the village of Barkuta where the film is set. In February 2014, Nirupabai’s home was bulldozed along with 16 others without adequate notice in a forced eviction, as part of Kusmunda’s continuing expansion. The law used to acquire her land - the Coal Bearing Areas Act - allows the government to acquire land without seeking the consent of Adivasis like her.

“Coal is something that enables all of our lives, and yet what’s often invisible are its actual costs, borne mostly by Adivasi families,” said Aakar Patel, executive director of Amnesty International India.

The Indian government plans to increase coal production to 1.5 billion tonnes by 2020, by when Coal India plans to produce a billion tonnes of coal every year. However in January 2017, India’s Central Electricity Authority stated in its draft National Electricity Plan that the country did not need any new coal-based power plants till 2022.

“We need to take a long and hard look at how our laws, and Adivasi people’s rights, are being violated in the rush to mine more coal. We hope the film can enable a more balanced and humane debate on how we can pursue development that respects the rights of everyone,” said Aakar Patel.

The film is available at http://elsevr.tv/cost-of-coal/.