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Mining the inferno- india's 100-year-...
Jharia, Jharkhand
By adrian
23 Nov 2014

Smoke comes out of a drain along the main road in Jharia, hinting at the alarming levels of underground fires in area. A few years ago, fires damaged the Jharia railway station, leading to its eventual closure.

Activists claim that the mining company in charge of the coal operations are allowing the fires to persist. The company is said to do this because the fires force residents off of their land for safety reasons, thus opening more prospective areas for mining.

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Mining the inferno- india's 100-year-...
Jharia, Jharkhand
By adrian
23 Nov 2014

Miners push around 350 kilograms of on a bicycle up a hillside.

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Mining the inferno- india's 100-year-...
Jharia, Jharkhand
By adrian
23 Nov 2014

A young girl miner observes her colleagues. Many local children are forced to work pilfering coal from state-owned mines in the area.

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Mining the inferno- india's 100-year-...
Jharia, Jharkhand
By adrian
23 Nov 2014

A miner takes a break overlooking the state-run open pit coal mine in Jharia. Miners have to manually carry large loads of coal from the bottom of the mine to the top, where it is delivered for processing.

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Mining the inferno- india's 100-year-...
Jharia, Jharkhand
By adrian
23 Nov 2014

A boy carrying a heavy load of coal over his head in Jharia. Many local children are forced to work pilfering coal from state-owned mines in the area.

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Mining the inferno- india's 100-year-...
Jharia, Jharkhand
By adrian
23 Nov 2014

Miners have to manually carry large loads of coal from the bottom of the mine to the top, where it is delivered for processing.

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Mining the inferno- india's 100-year-...
Jharia, Jharkhand
By adrian
23 Nov 2014

A female miner balances raw coal stones on her head. The work is grueling and harmful to the health of the workers.

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Mining the inferno- india's 100-year-...
Jharia, Jharkhand
By adrian
23 Nov 2014

Smoke from underground fires rise in the state-run open pit mine near Jharia.

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Mining the inferno- india's 100-year-...
Jharia, Jharkhand
By adrian
23 Nov 2014

Miners have to manually carry large loads of coal from the bottom of the mine to the top, where it is delivered for processing.

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Mining the Inferno: India's 100 Year ...
Jharia
By Sanjay Pandey
14 Nov 2014

Roughly 700,000 people live immediately above a series of underground fires that have been smoldering in the town of Jharia for a century, come next year. The government of India is, quite literally, playing with fire.

“State-run coal firm BCCL is deliberately stoking the fire so that they can have more and more of the area declared unsafe to live in and get a broader area in which to continue its mining operations,” says activist Ashok Agarwal of Jharia Coalfield Bachao Samiti, an organization formed by locals to fight the government’s dictatorial policies.

The area is rich in coal and, to cut costs, much of the mining in the area is done by opencast methods. Opencast mining is more profitable than deep mining since the costs of excavation are low and productivity is significantly higher. In Jharia, some 270km from Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand province, coal is mined everywhere. People armed with shovels dig their way into rat-hole mines near villages and dwellings, roads and even railway tracks.

Bokalpari is one of the many areas affected by the perennial fires in Jharia: no less than 67 have been raging in the belly of the earth. Mining in the area is a source of revenue and livelihood. But with the advent of modern machines, a majority of the manual workforce has become redundant. For villagers like Shamim Khan, mining has become more of a curse. Shamim used to work as driver’s assistant, but is currently unemployed.  

“I haven’t had a job for around 5 years now," he said. "When my forefathers came here decades ago hoping to earn a good living, they left their land and property behind in Bihar. Now, we cannot even go and reclaim that land.”

Coal-seam fires annually spew around 1.4 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, making India the fourth biggest producer of greenhouse gas of the world. In Jharia, mining started back in 1896. After the nationalization of all coalmines in 1971, many were handed over to the state-owned Bharat Coking Coal Limited (BCCL). But the desire to produce cheaper and cheaper coal prompted BCCL to depart from the standard practice of underground or tunnel mining in 1974.

“Coal-seam fires are nothing new in the coal belt. But they became a threat after BCCL opened up the mines,” says Agarwal.

The underground fires in Jharia will be a century old next year, but the government seems to be doing little to douse the flames.

“The BCCL is digging the fire out as part of the master plan,” says T K Lahiri, a managing director of BCCL.

Though mining companies are officially meant to fill abandoned mines with sand, anyone can see that the pits are left unattended. According to local residents, the leftover coal in these pits then comes into contact with oxygen and catches fire. The government’s plan of relocating residents of fire-affected areas has not yet materialized due to resistance from the people and officials’ half-hearted approach to the issue. So far, around 1100 families out of 2500 have been relocated to a township in Belgaria. Those who have moved to the township complain of a lack of basic amenities and job opportunities. This has prompted many to return to their fire-ravaged villages.

“Since there is no source of employment, I have to travel 13km on foot to reach Bokapahari. I know people here so it is easier for me to get a job,” says Shamim, 45, whose two sons have migrated to Delhi where they work as daily wage laborers.

As for those who decided to stay on, a different kind of social problem has emerged. Now, boys and girls living in fire-affected parts of Jharia find it difficult to find a match for themselves. Akhtari Bano, 75, has three marriageable sons and two daughters, but is not able to find anyone suitable for them.  

“It is not that the proposals don’t come at all. But when people come and see that we’re sitting on the lap of a burning fire and that smoke is always emanating from our houses, they run away,” she says. “The government might be having fun playing with fire. But why play with our lives?”

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Mining the inferno- india's 100-year-...
Jharia, Jharkhand
By adrian
18 Mar 2014

A coal fire rages in an open coal mine in Jharia, India.

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Mining the inferno- india's 100-year-...
Jharia, Jharkhand
By adrian
09 Mar 2014

Children play in the streets of Belgharia, a township that has been set to up accommodate residents of Jharia displaced by the fire.

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Manual Labour
Yenagoa, Nigeria
By Preditor Push
08 May 2013

A woman chopping down cassava plants from the proposed site of the 1st Film school In Yenagoa, Bayelsa, Nigeria

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Sample media
Poor earnings of day labor
Dhaka, Bangladesh
By zakir hossain chowdhury
31 Dec 2012

Manual laborers in Bangladesh face harsh conditions, working 11 hours days, often for under $2 an hour. According to ILO (International Labor Organization), the harsh reality is that some 375 million working women and men are not able to earn enough to keep themselves and their families above the $1.25 a day extreme poverty line. That is around one in eight of the employed population of the developing world where more than a quarter of working women and men live with their families on $2 a day or less.