Video blogger Lalji Kurmi is waiting to go viral.
It’s an unusual dream for a resident of India’s oldest coalfield, Jharia, where fires rage underground, bare trees stand guard morosely around mines spewing dust and fumes - and where coal has provided work for at least four generations.
Kurmi, 32, was the first in his family to get an education: a diploma in mining. Now he and many other young people in the region want to leave their soot-blighted lives behind, even as coal production soars.
But they face an uphill struggle in an area where there is no other thriving industry.
Kurmi travels to nearby towns and makes videos showcasing visitor attractions such as markets, temples and fairs, which he uploads to his YouTube channel in the hope of winning more views and subscriptions to draw in advertising and generate revenue.
“My father operated wagons that carry coal. But I don’t like this work. You inhale fumes all day and live in fear of fatal accidents,” said Kurmi, sipping tea from a clay cup at a roadside eatery.
“I tried getting a job in railways, the army, but couldn’t qualify. I have got some fame among locals from my videos and I like it,” said Kurmi, whose YouTube channel has 4,000 subscribers.
“If one video goes viral, life will take off,” he added optimistically.
Jharia is synonymous with the coking coal used in steel-making, a valuable commodity in India which imports more than 57 million tonnes of it annually, spending upwards of 450 million rupees ($5.53 million), government data shows.
Daily coal production in Jharia - where technical issues mean only about a third of its more than 100 mines are functional - this year jumped to 100,000 tonnes, up from an average of 80,000 tonnes until 2021, local mining officials said.
India is boosting coal production nationwide to cut import costs and meet rising energy demand.
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