The petite town of Jharia, located in Jharkhand, ‘resembles a cremation ground at night’. Jharia has one of the world’s largest deposits of coal, (read: Black diamond), where the mining history dates back to the 18th century. ‘Dhanbad’ district (read: wealthy in Hindi), basked in it’s glory and shared the infinite wealth churned out of it’s womb. Where ancestors like mine once prospered, is now seeing Nil to negative population growth. Appreciation of assets is unheard of and depreciation is the word. Jharia was recently surveyed to be the cheapest city of India.
Jharia being the largest coal producer has 23 large underground and several open cast mines. The town has been stationary on a bed of fire since 1916. Colossal deposits of coal lying un-mined have been burning underneath ever since. Presently more than 70 mine fires are reported from this region. Such is the intensity of the fires that even a mid-summer sun pales in the smoky haze that they generate. Some 40 million tonnes of India’s coal is said to have turned to ash and another worth Rs. 60,000 crores is still laying in it’s bed waiting to be mined.
Few years ago the town’s temple snapped into two. The next moment, flames leapt out from underneath spewing noxious gases. The people of Jharia then realized that the underground fire had finally reached their doorstep, until then it was thought to be on the outer circles of the city. This has become a usual site now, with schools and roads developing cracks and at times even collapsing due to land subsidence. The hungry daemon has engulfed significant tracts of land and who’s will be the next turn is the cause nightmare for it’s 90,000 odd population.
Present challenge: Dousing the fire has been one of the major challenges for the miners, who dig holes and stow water mixed sand through the holes and fill the concavity, created by the raging fire, with sand. Mass re-location of it’s dwellers, who have been awaiting either to get a compensation or be re-located to safer towns around Jharia, however this seems to be a distant dream if not impossible. State & central governments have drawn up umpteen number of plans but they are yet to see the light of the day.
As a last resort, and in the absence of tangible solution, several families, one of them being mine, have moved out of the city leaving their ancestral homes and age-old livelihood for safer havens. Numerous NGOs and even political parties, of the likes JMM, have sprung up to help rid the residents from the perils of this morbid town but much needs to be done. People concerned should hasten the process of relocation or compensation, before it is too late and several thousand lives are put to the axe.
Image Credit: Copa 41
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