Life On Fire

On 18 December, in the Bastakola area of fire-affected Jharia, a woman was buried alive. BCCL - District Administration officer arrived, and after analysing, said more such incidents could occur. This newspaper also did a survey of area, and made a report

Yes, there is fear, but what do we do?

“If we don’t mine the coal from the shaft mine, and don’t prep it and sell it, what will we do? Need to sell 1-2 sacks of coal every day to be able to feed ourselves and the kids. The Government has provided Red (Ration) Card, Cooking Gas & Stove, but for how long can we live just on rice? By Ma Kali’s blessings, no one has lost their life here, we’ll continue to have faith” says a couple residing in Lillauri Pathra (Baalu Ghaddha) next to Jharia Station. In 2019, 5 houses and 1 shop sunk into the land here.

Surveys are conducted, photos are clicked, then nothing happens

32 families still reside in Industry Colliery, where a week ago a woman was buried alive. Jitendra Kumar, a resident of the area says they’ve been living here for 20 years, many surveys were conducted, their photographs were clicked, but nothing came of it. “We have accepted this as our fate. Till we don’t find a safe house to stay, we won’t go anywhere. Whatever happens, will happen.”

Every day the land in Jharia is tearing apart

Every day the land tears apart, continual flames all around, and areas getting poisoned with toxic fumes. No one knows when they might suddenly lose someone, or someone might be buried alive. In the midst of all this, people on keep living in Jharia, keep mining coal day and night, burning it and selling it. Many want to continue in these horrifying circumstances to feed themselves, their families, but a lot of families have been waiting a long time for rehabilitation. They want at least a 2-room house in Belgadhia, or any such area, and along with that a source of steady income.

The thing is, Jharia has been burning underground for more than a hundred years. There have been many attempted plans to quench the fire, but none have worked. Jharia railway station was ruined, so were the railway tracks, Bagdigi, Bhagatdih, Laltainganj, Boka hill, and many such regions have vanished from the maps. RSP College and Jharia High School had to be shut down.

It’s a deplorable state, but many also claim that these are contrived ways for the coal company to completely ruin Jharia, so they can have access to the precious coal underneath. People say that RSP College was shuttered for fears of land sinkage, but next to it is a mount of OB Dump, which still remains unscathed. No matter what people say, the truth of the matter is that various parts of the Jharia Coal Fields, such as Lillauri Pathra, Ghanudi Mohalla settlement, Kujama settlement, Bastakola No. 7 Paswan Strip and Industries Colliery, Rajapur Colliery, and many more, are in grave danger. This is a fire affected area, and is highly sensitive with regards to land sinkage as well.

The seriousness of the issue came to fore in 1997

The seriousness of “Fire of Jharia” was understood in 1997, that too only after earstwhile MP Haraadhan Rai filed a PIL in the Supreme Court. On hearing the PIL, the Court declared the fires in Jharia as a “national tragedy”, directions were given to make rehabilitation plans for residents, and to share the progress report with the Court. In a hurry, for the sake of fulfilling basic quorum, Belgadhia was setup and a few people were made to settle there.

18,352 houses to be constructed by JRDA

BCCL is supposed to make 15,852 houses, while the Jharia Rehabilitation & Development Authority (JRDA) is responsible for 18,352 houses. BCCL has made 7714 houses already, while 8,138 are under construction. Whereas JRDA has only managed to make 6,352 house, and is yet to make 12,000 houses.

- News report in Prabhat Khabar (26.12.2020) translated by Kartikay

Jharia