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. Hardly any of the workers in the open cast mines wear any protective gear, no masks and no boots. 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.
Gayatri Devi, an illegal coal collector, is 40 and lives in a one-room house in one of Jharia’s active fire zones called Bokapahadi. The floor of her house has a huge crack, fumes from which fill the house. “I have lived here for 40 years,” Gayatri tells.
“Last year, the floor cracked and since then my house is on fire. When we walk barefoot our feet burn. At night, my children feel suffocated on the pungent fumes. Eight of us sleep in this room,” adds Gayatri Devi.
Muzaffar Hussain is 32 years old and works with BCCL, the state mining company that runs Jharia’s mining fields. His house, which shelters a family of ten, is practically a gas chamber with noxious gas hissing from cracks in the floor. His wife has been suffering
from continuous nausea and breathing problems, and half of Muzaffar’s monthly salary goes into her treatment. Like many others who work for BCCL, he hasn’t received the health card that assures subsidized treatment at the hospital.
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.
Residents of the collieries are affected by air and water pollution borne diseases that leads to respiratory and abdominal problems. RP Gupta doctor of the BCCL run hospital at Ghanudih describes, “Villagers are suffering from a battery of lung diseases caused by air pollution. Many of them are not even aware of that they are sick. People have become used to nose bleeding or breathing trouble.”
Tata Steel Rural Development Society, working for residents of the coal belt for years has observed that residents of the coal belt live a short live due to lung disorders. A social worker associated with TSRDS stated, “Most of the diseased people are not treated because they themselves are not aware of the ailments. This has resulted into shortening of life span of the locals.” ollieries are affected by air and water pollution borne diseases that leads to respiratory and abdominal problems. RP Gupta doctor of the BCCL run hospital at Ghanudih describes, “Villagers are suffering from a battery of lung diseases caused by air pollution. Many of them are not even aware of that they are sick. People have become used to nose bleeding or breathing trouble.”
BCCL managing director T K Lahiri says, “Compensation is offered to anyone who qualifies for it under the company’s guidelines. We have been trying best for the past two decades to control these fires, but there is no permanent solution. The rehabilitation of the workers to new Jharia is in process. ”