Saturday, January 14, 2012

The coal thieves of Jharia. Photo by Subhash Sharma

India digs in to clean up mining

By Anuj Chopra

JHARIA, INDIA - Every day at sundown, about a dozen villagers from this village in the Jharia region in eastern India crawl like moles into a dark, airless hole punched 4 metres into the earth.

Working by torchlight, they spend hours each night ripping coal out of hard stone with hammers and pick axes, braving dangers such as cave ins and poisonous gas. For the impoverished residents of Jharia, stealing coal - about 12 to 15 sacks a night - from such hostile pits to sell in the region's flourishing black market is a dangerous way of life. But it is lucrative business. Each of the sacks holds up to 15kg of coal that sells for between 6 rupees and 10 rupees a kilo.

Beneath their feet lies one of India's largest coal deposits. In Jharia, where underground coal mining officially began in 1894, there is US$12 billion of coal deposits, the government says. In the past decade, residents of Jairampur, who requested anonymity fearing their village could be raided by authorities, have dug several such holes to reach the coal. Such illegal mining is rampant in this coal belt.


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