The coalfields of Jharia | Photographer: Isabell Zipfel | BLACK AND WHITE | Scoop.it

In Jharia, in the federal state of Jharkhand, around 600,000 people live in the middle of one of India's biggest coal mining areas. There's nothing in it for most of them. Quite the opposite: the soil, the water and the air are now contaminated, of all things in an area that was previously rich in woodland. 
The story of Jharia is the story of how the greed for profit, vested interests and the thirst for power have prevailed and led to one of the areas richest in minerals in India remaining so economically backward. For the mining marginalises the poor and deepens social inequality in the name of economic development, from which mostly only metropolises like Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai profit. 


Shortly after 1971, the coal mines were nationalised. Since then, their operator is the BCCL (Bharat Coking Coal Limited) which thus controls one of the biggest coal deposits in India and one of the biggest in the whole of Asia. BCCL conducts mainly opencast mining. Mostly illegally, since in 97% of the cases no licence has been granted. Opencast mining is more profitable than deep mining. The productivity and extracted quantities are significantly higher than in deep mining and cost less. In Jharia, coal is mined in the villages, next to the houses, in short, on people's doorsteps. Even on the streets, on railway lines, in the station itself, which is not a station any more, coal is mined. 


Really, the mined area should be filled with sand and water afterwards, so it can be cultivated again. For cost reasons, however, this never happens, which leads to the coal seams coming into contact with oxygen and catching fire. India has the most coal blazes worldwide. BCCL representatives estimate there are 67 fires in Jharia alone.