Walking on fire

Walking on fire is neither mystical nor unheard of for the residents of Jharia in Jharkhand. For over a century, people of this village have mastered the art. Coal mines in the region are burning since 1916, when the fires allegedly erupted due to unscientific mining. 101 years on, it continues to burn, slowly engulfing the area leaving the future of residents living there in doubt.

Cracks reveal underground fires burning in Jharia, Jharkhand | | Photography Courtesy: Ankit Singh

Nearly 70 underground fires have been raging beneath the coalfields for a century. The severity of the situation has led to people being relocated away from the village. The Jharia Action Plan has relocated residents from Jharia and nearby Ghannudi but since most of the residents depend on coal for a living, there is no escape from the fire. Many relocated locals make the journey back to Jharia to work in the mines – either officially or illegally. Satichand, a defiant resident said, “The government officers have taken my details but I have not found a new home yet. If I leave Jharia and go to Belgaria, I might get a house, but what about my job? The government is not helping with that.”

A woman carries coal to her home in Jharia, Jharkhand. Coal is integral to survival of residents of the village || Photograph Courtesy: Ankit Singh

The Jharia Action Plan, plans to rehabilitate around three lakh people living on the edge of the burning coal mines to newly constructed townships but residents are in the dark about when that will happen. They lie in wait for the day government officials visit their home and take them away to their new home.

Place: Jharia, Jharkhand

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