On shaky ground

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feu inde mine évacuation population Jharia Jharkhand

Un habitant passe à côté d’un feu souterrain de mine à Satgram en Inde 3 janvier 2008 © AFP PHOTO / Deshakalyan CHOWDHURY

Nearly half a million people living in and around the Jharia coalfield in Jharkhand have to be shifted to control underground fires. But the government has no sound strategy for their rehabilitation and the people have no trust in the government

Kujama village in Jharkhand’s Jharia coalfield appears like a war zone that has been bombed repeatedly. Several houses and a temple are now debris; only their skeletons remain. Cracks in walls and the floor spew noxious smoke. Barely a few metres from the village flames leap out of pits and cracks in the earth every few seconds. Underneath, fire is raging, turning high quality coal into ash and creating voids. “We know our house can subside anytime,” said Kishori Lal, a 66-year-old who has seen the fire progress towards the village for 20 years. The fire has now spread under Kujama but Kishori Lal refuses to leave the village. “Our livelihood is stealing coal. My father was also a coal thief. I am not literate and have no job. Dying in this fire is better than dying of hunger,” he said. Down To Earth

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