Money Sharma

Indian night

© Money Sharma

With 1.38 billion people living in the country, India is the second most populous nation on the planet, after China and far ahead of the United States. This demography, combined with unbridled urbanisation and rampant modernisation, has turned the country into an energy-guzzling ogre. New Delhi tops the list of the world’s most polluted cities with particle levels in the air four to six times higher than the safe limit defined by the World Health Organisation. And this is not surprising: 2.5 million tonnes of coal are devoured every day to meet the energy needs of India’s population (70 % of electricity is produced by coal-fired power stations). This situation forces authorities to close schools and certain public services when air pollution levels are too high, especially in winter when the cold prevents the smoke from dissipating rapidly.

At the COP26 summit, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a goal of carbon neutrality by 2070 through massive investment in renewable energy, yet his government has done nothing to reduce India’s dependence on coal. On the contrary: the state recently auctioned off 40 coal mines for commercial purposes.

Photography has run in the family of Agence France-Presse member Money Sharma for four generations. For the past 20 years, he has covered events in his country, from current affairs to sports tournaments, but also “the roads less travelled”, as he likes to say, with particular reference to the roads that criss-cross the northern mountains. 

In the images in this exhibition, he illustrates the visual consequences of pollution (constant smog, toxic foam on the surface of rivers), along with all the links in the Indian coal chain, from domestic consumption for boiling water or heating homes to the huge mines from which thousands of tons of this black gold are excavated. This fuel is poisoning the planet and the health of the people who live on this land, scorched and scarred by crevices from which flames and toxic gases escape.

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