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‘Ground Is Sinking, Houses Are Cracking’: People of Jharia Fear for Their Lives

Jharkhand has highest coal reserves in the nation. But behind this abundance, there’s a story darker than coal.

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Video Producers: Azhar Ansar, Aparna Singh
Video Editors: Karuna Mishra, Pawan Kumar

“At night, it feels like this is the burning Lanka.” 

“The ground is sinking because of the underground fire”

“Everyday we fear what will happen at night...”

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Today, while several countries are struggling with an energy crisis, Jharkhand alone can fulfill India’s energy requirements for the next 70 years. Jharkhand has 29 percent of India’s coal reserves – highest in the nation. 

According to the Geological Survey of India, Jharkhand has 86,000 million tonnes of coal reserve. From anthracite to bituminous to lignite, Jharkhand has an abundance of high quality coal.

But behind this abundance, there’s a story darker than coal. 
Jharkhand has highest coal reserves in the nation. But behind this abundance, there’s a story darker than coal.
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Heaps of Coal in Jharia: A Nightmare for Residents

Jharkhand’s Dhanbad is the coal capital of India. Jharia – a settlement in Dhanbad – is a key source of India’s energy. But these heaps of coal have become a nightmare for the people of Jharia. 

Underground fire is coming onto the surface, the walls of the houses keep cracking, the ground is gradually sinking. People are dying...
Jharkhand has highest coal reserves in the nation. But behind this abundance, there’s a story darker than coal.

The ground is sinking as the underground fire makes its way to the surface.

(Photo: Anand Dutta/The Quint)

The people of Jharia have been living in fear for the last 30 years. Chinta Devi’s house that is in shambles tells the story of every family living in Jharia. 

“There are cracks everywhere. There are cracks on the ground. The situation makes us tense,” said China Devi, while showing us the state of her house.

Over 500 sites in Jharia are marked dangerous and 70 are marked as very dangerous. 
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'We Don't Know What Will Happen at Night'

Kailu Paswan, a resident of Jharia, told The Quint that the ground can burst anytime.

"You can see there’s fire under the ground. The fire is spreading. Had you come in the night, you would have thought that this is the burning Lanka."
Kailu Paswan, a local resident
Jharkhand has highest coal reserves in the nation. But behind this abundance, there’s a story darker than coal.

Most houses in Jharia are in shambles.

(Photo: Anand Dutta/The Quint)

Geeta Devi, another resident, said, “During the day things are still okay. But we don’t know what will happen at night. When the day breaks, we know we have survived another night.”

According to the a report by the Ministry of Coal, 15 people were killed and 27 were injured from 2015-17 due to the sinking of the ground.

Rs 2,311 crore have been spent so far to douse the fire, as per reports. On January 2023, Ministry of Coal Secretary, Amritlal Meena met Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren and said that the people living in Jharia need to be relocated to a safer place.
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"If people from an upper caste had set up their houses here, they would have been shifted to a safer place. Because they are considered dignified. We have no dignity because we are from a lower caste."
Geeta Devi, Jharia resident

Only 5 Percent Families From Jharia Rehabilitated

As per the master plan by the Jharia Rehabilitation and Development Authority, 79,000 families were supposed to be relocated by 2021. But as per the Ministry of Coal, only 4,049 families – only 5 percent of the families – have been relocated to Belgadia.

But people living here said that there are no employment opportunity and no facilities. The houses already have cracks on walls and ceilings.

As per the Dhanbad Districts Administration, 15,713 quarters were supposed to be made in Belgadia. Out of that only 7,790 are reportedly ready. Only over 4,000 families have been moved there.  But thousands are still stuck in Jharia, their lives hang in the balance...

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Topics:  Coal   Jharkhand   Coal Mines 

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