Jharkhand is one of the richest areas in the whole country, rich in minerals deposit and forests. Coal alone contributes about 92- 93 per cent to the total revenues from mining received by the Jharkhand government. Infact Jharkhand receives the maximum mining royalty among the coal producing states of India.
Since its formation, the Jharkhand government has been laying the red carpet for industrial investment by offering sops. Jharkhand State Mineral Development Corporation Ltd (JSMDC) and four major Companies of Coal India Ltd namely Central Coalfields Limited, Bharat Coking Coal Ltd., Eastern Coalfields Limited and Central Mine Planning & Design Institute Ltd. are contributing to the production of coal. Other entrepreneurs like Tata Steel, Tenughat Vidyut Nigam Ltd. and Damodar Valley Corporation also have captive mines in the State.
But as one traverses down the mining lanes of Jharkhand, ground level reality of the industry that is the integral part of the state’s economy tells a tale of apathy, negligence, gross corruption, lack of understanding and political will. One is confronted by the poor and dejected community, eking out a living on the fringes of a mine that employees local residents. Their families live in gritty hovels and shabby quarters in and around the mining areas.
This is trickle down economics at work, honoring those who have been forced to sacrifice their land in the name of growth.
Jharkhand is a rich state of poor people. It has concentration of some of country’s highly industrialized cities like Jamshedpur, Bokaro and Dhanbad. Despite the fact that it has First Iron & steel factory at Jamshedpur, biggest explosives factory at Gomia, first methane gas well, still, it has several towns and innumerable villages with sub-standard civic amenities. Urbanization ratio is 22.25% only.
Every area surrounding mines has its own issues that the inhabitants live with. Jharia has been combating underground mine fire for about a century now. Huge open cast and underground mines are threatening the health and homes of thousands. Villages or colliery slums like Bokapahadi, Kujama, Ghanudih, Baghdighi, Jairampur, are mining areas in and around Jharia where hundreds of families live above the fire. The land beneath their feet is hot and everywhere smoke and sulphurous gases escape from thousands of fissures and cracks.
CMD of Bharat Coking Coal Limited (BCCL) T.K. Lahiri says that with the approval of the Rs 9,657-crore master plan by both the Centre and State governments and subsequent division of responsibilities between JRDA and BCCL, there remains little confusion.
People of Jharia have no choice. As Jharia burns, the people who have chosen to make this place their home brave the fire and fumes to somehow make a living and feed themselves two square meals a day. Most end up with a film of soot covering their lungs and by the time pneumoconiosis is detected, it is too late to do anything.
A social worker associated with Tata Steel Rural Development Society (TSRDS) who has worked for residents of the coal belt for years stated, “Most of the diseased people are not treated because of lack of are awareness. This has resulted into shortening of life span of the locals.”
The inhabitants of Bokaro and Karanpura coal fields also face the threat of eviction. Majority of the health problems in these areas are caused due to unchecked pollution and high levels of toxicity, mine tailings and mine disasters. The expanding operations of mining company Central Coalfields Limited (CCL) are posing an immediate threat to the survival of 1,000 indigenous people facing eviction from the village of Kusum Tola.
These issues are not unknown to the people in the power yet less has been done at ground level to uplift the mass. For those that pull the strings of power, talk of development is simply a means to an end. Health and education projects matter only to the extent till mentioning them helps placate the public.
Nevertheless, the miners and their families work and dwell in these areas, pitted against all the forces. For the workers who are part and parcel of the industry that is backbone of the State’s economy – the richest industry of Jharkhand yet its men are poor!