Coal mining is drying up the villages of Ramgarh, Jharkhand
About the Video: Nestled between the blackened pits of the TATA and CCL coal mines, the community of Ramgarh district in the state of Jharkhand has been left without access to basic drinking water. Before the mining companies came in, water was accessed by digging a mere 6-8 feet below the ground but now the deepest wells, about three to five times the depth, are running on empty. Continuous mining has dried out the traditional community wells. While the groundwater is being spirited away, rain water has no chance to replenish the falling water table. The rains collect and stagnate with the pollutants in the mining pits.
When the mines were planned, the mining companies had promised clean drinking water to the community and for a while it seemed that they would live up to the promises. New wells were constructed. Hand pumps were installed. Regular tankers of water were sent to the villages.
Then one day, the tankers stopped coming. The wells dried up and the hand pumps had no more water to yield. The nearby agricultural land began to lose its fertility. Farmers lost their livelihoods. The nearest source of clean water was over two kilometres away. With few options, the community began to use the water in collected in the pits and their health took a toll. They were plagued with skin rashes and allergies.
Lacking options, they took their problems to the gates of the mining companies and reminded them of their promises. They were given an application form. The application once completed would be processed by the companies. Depending on if they feel that the situation as presented in the application is grave/important enough, a tanker may/may not be sent.
Community Correspondent Says: Mohan Bhuiyan, Community Correspondent from Ramgarh, Jharkhand has been breathing the bleak air of the coal mines for at least a decade. When the mining companies arrived at his village with attractive prices for land and a million shining promises, his community gave in. He says that there is not a day that passes when they do not regret the decision. “We have made a mistake but I want the others to look at us as a cautionary tale of what happens to communities when mining companies move in,” says Mohan. “We are bereft. If we take bath in polluted water, if we travel 2 kilometres to get drinking water, it is a sign of our extreme helplessness.”
“Whenever a mining company comes around, I travel from village to village and try to show people the damage done to us and try to convince them to make the right decision. I tell them that very soon they will rule over you and oppress you on your own land. And before you know it, you will be standing at the gates begging them for one tanker of water.”
The Issue: The vision of modern India has come at a heavy price and the Damodar River Valley in the state of Jharkhand has been one of the unwilling victims who have paid the toll for progress. The abundant water once supported diverse flora and fauna and the lives and livelihoods of the tribal, fishing and agricultural communities living along its fertile banks. Once a year, the abundance spilled over causing flooding and devastation. Even if these events earned the river the unfortunate moniker of ‘river of sorrow’, it was a cyclic event that the communities had learned to cope with.
In 1984, the Government of India introduced the Damodar Valley Project to control the flooding by using the water to generate hydro and thermal power. Industrialization came to valley promising a better future with no floods and electricity for all. A little over 25 years have passed and it has now become one of the most polluted river basins in the world.
The Damodar river flows across some of the most mineral rich parts of the country – the Chota Nagpur plateau with its reserves of mica, bauxite, copper, iron ore, lime stone and coal. It had the raw materials that laid the foundation of India’s industrial revolution. The majority of the coal consumed in the country is mined from the region. The land has become the base for hundreds of industrial units. With mines, washeries, furnaces and the infrastructure, coal spawned an industry of its own.
Setting up a coal mine destroys the immediate landscape. There is large scale deforestation and the quality of the land and soil is irreparably affected. The mine renders it unfit for any other purpose. The altering of land depletes the ground water. Dust and coal particles released in the mining and processing of the coal pollutes the air. They are a health hazard known to cause severe respiratory ailments. The gases that emanate from the mines are greenhouse gases that contribute towards global warming. The toxic drainage and loose soil not only pollutes the nearby sources of water but also finds its way to the ground water reserves damaging the quality of water.
The effects of mining are long-standing. Even if the mine is shut and abandoned, the land is forever damaged. Chances of recovery are nil. The 'river of sorrow' had turned to sludge.
Call to Action: India’s industries are still powered by coal. There is an urgent need to shift to more sustainable and ecological alternatives. Coal companies need to be made accountable of the damage they cause to the environment and communities.
This is Community Correspondent Mohan Bhuiyan’s First Video. IndiaUnheard asked him about his thoughts on the concept and process of videoactivism at the grassroots.
“We have been suffering oppression from the mining companies for years. We have not been silent. We have organised rallies and protests. I have forgotten the number of times that I have written petitions to the government imploring them to look into the matter. I have tried to get the local media interested. It is not that we were not speaking out. It is that our voices lacked a channel.”
“Initially I had some trouble wrapping my head around the concept of a video or maybe I was just feeling awkward about it. Then one day I got a call from the IndiaUnheard office. They spoke to me quite strongly. ‘This is your issue. If you don’t speak out, who the hell is going to?’ That really set me thinking. I picked up my camera and decided that come what may, I will get this video done.”
“It was surprising how some unassuming people opened up to the camera. It was like their deepest thoughts were becoming words. They spoke so strongly and so eloquently that I was inspired. Their words had power and ache and anguish in them. These words became my responsibility. My videos are a passage to take their words out into the world. Till date we were talking to a closed wall. With my camera we are poised at the ears of the world.”
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