The Jharia Tragedy

The nature has provided us with abundant resources which has nurtured many generations for long but we humans have failed in our responsibility to protect these resources. There are many environmental problems that the world faces today while the nations are busy equipping themselves with arms and weapons. Oil spills, rising temperatures, climate change, forest fires and the list goes on. Many nations have come together to deal with the rising global environmental challenges but such paltry efforts have proved to be insufficient with fast depleting resources.Le Amusant team has decided to introduce a new column for our Blog/Magazine which aims to bring to light such major environmental problems/challenges that the world faces today.

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Jharia is the fifteenth-largest town in the state of Jharkhand, India. More than one town in India shares this name. Jharia is famous for its rich coal resources but the very same resources have been a curse for the people living there.  India will mark the centenary of greenhouse gas emissions from the coalfields of Jharia. The Jharia Coalfields continue to remain an environmental hazard with neither Coal India nor Bharat Coking Coal Limited (BCCL) officials coming to a decision on how to control these fires while there are many lives at stake.

The mining activities in these coalfields started in 1894 and had really intensified in 1925. The history of coal-mine fire in Jharia coalfield can be traced back to 1916 when the first fire was detected. At present, more than 70 mine fires are reported from this region. Coal, a non-renewable source of energy, is found in several parts of the world. The coal layers are mined by two methods: open cast mining and underground mining. If coal is exposed to air for long, it automatically catches fire. Spontaneous heating causes self-oxidation when coal is exposed to air and one of the main reasons of fire is the unplanned and non-technical planning of coal mining that’s leads to fire in the coal deposit.

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 Media reports claim that the area is rich in coal and to cut costs, much of the mining in the area is done by open-cast method. Open-cast mining is more profitable than deep mining as excavation cost is low and productivity is significantly higher. But the pollution caused by these coal mine fires is altogether an agonizing story. It affects air, water, and land. Smoke, from these fires contains poisonous gases such as oxides and dioxides of carbon, nitrogen and sulphur, which along with particulate matter are the causes of several lung and skin diseases.

The plan to relocate residents of fire-affected areas has not taken place yet. Only about 1,113 families out of a total of 52,000 have been moved to a township in Belgaria, and those who have moved in complain of lack of basic amenities and job opportunities. The families apart from their medical bills have to suffer the wrath of unemployment and insufficient amenities. When it comes to eliminating fire, it’s somewhat a very tedious job as the fire area is so extensive and hot that no method of quenching is effective and economic. Even if more burning coal is extracted, it would go extending.

While there is plethora of theories suggesting the cause of the fire, there are no definitive theories as of now. Although there are multiple methods to detect the fire- Air Monitoring and temperature monitoring and control the fire- Nitrogen flushing and sealing off the area. But as of now, there are no concrete methods to stop this occurrence. The burning deposits of Jharia, in Jharkhand, are particularly prized because they are the only source of top quality steelmaking coal in the country. Mr. Modi travelled to Jharkhand in February and urged the Chief Minister to speed up work on putting out the fires and shifting the people living there. Although it will be a huge challenge for the state but speedy relocation, basic healthcare facilities and effective solution for the burning land needs to be ensured to preserve the most valued resource on earth.

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