by Dan Martucci, Colgate University, 2016
India has taken its place in the global economy as a top coal producer and consumer, with two-thirds of their electricity coming from coal. The Jharia Coal Field is a major player in India’s coal production, but is also a place of severe marginalization. The government and major mining companies have dominated the narrative of this coalfield for a long time, silencing the awful marginalization that local populations face. Through the resource curse theory, we are able to better understand this marginalization.
Mining in the Jharia Coal Field has been going on for more than a century and has played an important role in India’s industrialization. In 1973, the coalfield was nationalized and is now operated by the Bharat Coking Coal Limited (BCCL), a subsidiary of Coal India. This mine has 23 underground mines and several opencast mines. As the only major source of coke coal, “one of the world’s dirtiest fossil fuels,” in all of India, this resource is very important for the role that it plays in the steel industry.
Important Dhanbad statistics:
- Population: over 2million people
- Literacy Rate: Males (83%), Females (64%)
- Urban Bias: Rural population: 42%
- Rural Population Literacy Rate: 68%; Region Average: 74.5%
The area surrounding this coalfield is from the very onset – prior to any of the environmental injustices that this coalfield inflicts on local peoples – already marginalized because they live in a rural, rather than urban, setting.
While coke coal is a valuable resource, the profits from its extraction do not go to the local miners and population.
Instead, the benefits go to Coal India and the government. The Indian government, located in the capital city New Delhi, owns almost 80% of Coal India. By taking advantage of the local population, Coal India can maximize its return on investment. Mohai et al. argue that companies and government bodies sometimes seek the path of least resistance when committing environmentally unjust acts. The people in this region are so poor and already marginalized that they are expected to lack organizational means and the ability to resist the marginalization that continues to occur.
Marginalization Caused By Coal Extraction:
Jharia is the most densely populated coalfield in the world and thus coal extraction has serious marginalizing consequences for the local population. There are six categories of marginalization.
Continuous Fires: After mining began in 1894, the first fire erupted in 1916. Opencast mining is not only cheaper, but it is also illegal in many instances: “in 97% of [BCCL] cases no licenses have been granted”. To add onto this already illegal behavior, the BCCL has not closed the opencast mines correctly, which perpetuates the dangerous fire at this coalfield.
Health Effects: Coupled with the brutal mining labor, the toxic gases coming from the burning coal result in a very young population in these villages as many people have serious respiratory problems.
Poor Housing Conditions: Miners live in ‘concrete buildings,’ not actual homes. In her article, Joyce mentions how the majority of people living in the area – and specifically those living in Bokahapadi Village (a small village bordering the Jharia Coal Field) – “live in small, mud-brick houses, packing up to ten people in a room…[and] many houses have cracks and caved-in roofs”. As the BCCL seeks to get at the 7,000 million tons of coal reserves under these villages, poor housing conditions are perpetuated.
Low Wages: Many of these marginalized villagers’ only choice for a job is in the coalfields working long, brutal days for less than $2. In order to make extra money, locals bribe mine guards so that they can gather coal and then sell it illegally at the market.
Gendered Workplace: Women largely spearhead this illegal behavior because they are not allowed to work in the mines during the day like their male counterparts.
Relocation Program: The Jharia Action Plan (JAP) is an Indian government sponsored resettlement program for impacted families. This relocation program, however, has proven to be an absolute disaster: less than 5% of impacted families have been relocated. Those that participate are relocated to a new town called Belgaria, where they live in rooms shared with ten other people. There are no jobs in Belgaria, so many people are forced to travel back to the coalfields to work. Instead of tackling the real marginalization and fundamentally trying to change society to eliminate the marginalization caused by coal, the government cuts corners because they don’t have to answer to these poor, uneducated and already marginalized people. It is likely that their only concern is saving face with the media and with the international players.
The Jharia Coal Field is a great example of the marginalization and environmental injustice that occurs around natural resources. Through the resource curse theory, we see that the local population does not get the benefits from the rich coke coal reserves under their land and have no other choice but to work in the very mines that cause much of their marginalization. Hopefully continued press coverage of the Jharia Coal Field will lead to more drastic improvements in the government’s relocation program. This site serves as a testament to what happens when those in power take advantage of marginalized people.
Read the full paper here.
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 Census Organization of India. (2015). Dhanbad district: Census 2011 data. Retrieved from http://www.census2011.co.in/census/district/96-dhanbad.html
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