Looking into the Lives of Communities in Coal Field Areas of Ramgarh

Since my childhood, I have lived in the uranium township of India. I was blessed to have an ideal childhood with all the care and upbringing that I got from my parents and school. Then and there I was not much aware of the lives of tribal living near to the mining areas. Growing older was also getting me nearer to the truths of devastation brought by the tailing wastes of uranium in neighbouring villages.

A similar chance came for me in AIF Clinton Fellowship, serving with Srijan Foundation in Jharkhand. This time I was given the opportunity to explore the dynamics of coalfield area villages in Kujju of Ramgarh district. Here I had to focus livelihood possibilities into farm-based and non-farm-based opportunities for the affected population. This story is all about my experiences from the three days of exposure visit into the affected villages in Ramgarh.

I always wonder to tour all the 24 districts of Jharkhand, to gain deeper understandings of people and their issues. To this, coming off an opportunity to learn and expose to a new district Ramgarh was an excitement gaining into preparedness. I quickly got into researching from various secondary sources on the internet to learn more about the place.

Few villages were part of interventions made by the Srijan Foundation for gender-based issues, social awareness, SHG promotions, skill-based training, developing women as leaders for decision making, livelihood opportunities, and societal recognition for their efforts. I discussed with team members from that location to get a brief understanding. Thereafter I prepared few questions to be asked and put forward in Focused Group Discussions with women in the exposure visit.

Focused Group Discussion with women farmers in Kujju.
Focused Group Discussion with women farmers in Kujju. Photo Credits: Shashi Kumar.

Jharkhand is a state in eastern India, accounting for 40% of the mineral resources but it suffers to be underdeveloped and widespread poverty among tribals. Jharkhand is a state known for its tribal population, forests, hills, waterfalls, minerals, and diverse bio-diversity. Ramgarh is one of the 24 districts in Jharkhand, with having a strong presence in the mineral map of the country. The district is enriched with rich deposits of coal, coal bed methane (CBN), limestones, fire clay, and other minerals.

A man transporting the coal on his cycle in Ramgarh.
A man carrying the coal on his cycle in Ramgarh. Photo credits: Shashi Kumar.

Post-independence after the sixties, the coal mining belt in Kujju of Ramgarh have experienced huge coal extraction by the Central Coalfields Limited (CCL) by the process of alienating them from agricultural lands. The various mining activities are based on either underground mines or open cast mines in these areas. Easy availability, ready-to-use, organised markets with the ease of cash flow practices made the people fully dependent on coal mining activities. After the over-exploitation of coal mines, several of them have slowly closed making them abandoned mines. The Report on Prevention of Illegal Coal Mining and Theft states these abandoned mines as the main source of illegal mining and theft of coal. These stealing by coal mafias, villagers lead to the roof falling, water flooding, poisonous gas leaking, leading to the death of many labourers.

Open Cast Mining of Coals in Kujju of Ramgarh.
Open Cast Mining of Coals in Kujju of Ramgarh. Photo Credits: Shashi Kumar.

Into a discussion with a woman in Karma village of Kujju, she narrated the story of how they go to collect coal in the morning. She told me that on few days, some women in groups travelled 5-6 km far to reach coalfield areas and collect coals themselves illegally. This travelling to-and-fro happens early in the morning between 3 am- 6 am in the dark. Here they risk their lives with hazardous, safety, and social conditions. In the end, they are happy to make use of these coals and even making profits by selling in the markets, unaware of the greater negative impacts.

A Focused Group Discussion organised with few women farmers in a village of Kujju in Ramgarh.
A Focused Group Discussion was organised with few women farmers in a village of Kujju in Ramgarh. Photo credits: Shashi Kumar.

The major livelihood activities of people here are associated with coal mining activities, agriculture, and other labour-based works. The exploitation of mining activities in coal-field areas is having adverse effects on land degradation, worsening health, air quality, underground water level, living conditions, and community practices. Over the years the coal deposits have finished in most areas and are to end in the coming years. The health of people is worsening with an increase in cases of Tuberculosis, nasal infections, lungs disorder owing to the poor air quality resulting from excessive coal mining. The roads in the area are found to be always filled with coal dust and coloured in thick layers of black.

A man moulding sand into brick as part of his livelihood.
A man moulding sand into bricks as part of his livelihood. Photo Credits: Shashi Kumar.

Agricultural activities have suffered in multiple dimensions over the last few decades. Coal being part of ready to cash economy plays a negative impact on agriculture by lowering the interest. With the lowering of the water table due to mining activities, the dependency on rain-fed agriculture has increased. Additionally, lack of improved knowledge, poor farming practices, fragmented land holdings, geographical topography, lack of alternative means of employment opportunities, failure of the government to properly implement schemes and services, etc. have resulted in under-utilization of land for agricultural practices. All this in turn affects the food and nutritional security of the population with specific undernourishment in children in women. Srijan Foundation is making efforts with the participation of women farmers to improve agricultural practices with organic farming methods. This is done by generating awareness about the low-cost nutrition garden which requires less irrigation.

Women farmers showing their farms in Kujju.
Women farmers showing their farms in Kujju. Photo Credits: Shashi Kumar.

Meanwhile travelling into these villages, I was accompanied by one of my team members who were part of the community. He narrated to me few interesting stories among which I discovered more about a festival which I knew a little about. Sohrai is a Santhal (tribe) community festival which they celebrate in the winter season in Jharkhand, post the harvest of the crops. The day when we were visiting the villages, he missed being with his family as he couldn’t take a leave. He was loaded with mixed emotions of sadness (to not being part of the family in the festival) and deep connection while sharing the 4-5 days long festival of worshipping nature, ancestors, and cattle. These traditional practices and festivals show us the significance of nature in our lives and how we can rejuvenate it. The tribal people have so much to teach us about our relationships with nature in the time when we are exploiting it for our never-ending greed.

Some snaps from the celebration of Sohrai Parv by tribal communities.
Some snaps from the celebration of Sohrai Parv by tribal communities. Photo credits: Naresh Manjhi.

References:

  1. “Kuju Area – Wikipedia.” Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 1 Mar. 2021, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kuju_Area.
  2. http://www.indiaenvironmentportal.org.in/files/Report-Prevention%20of%20%20illegal%20coal%20mining%20and%20theft.pdf.

Shashi is serving as an American India Foundation (AIF) Clinton Fellow with Srijan Foundation in Hazaribagh, Jharkhand. For his fellowship project, he is developing strategic initiatives to inform women farmers about various models and organic farming to increase production and ensure household-level food and nutrition security through better income and livelihood opportunities. Shashi was born in Aurangabad, Bihar, and brought up in Jaduguda, in Jamshedpur, an uranium township of India. He completed his schooling in Computer Science from the Central School. He graduated in Mass Communication in order to connect with rural people. During his studies, he enjoyed learning about photography, documentary making, advertising, public relations, rural development and new media. With this, he started the Garib Samachar initiative with three peers to make social documentaries of communities on varied social issues. He served as a Gandhi Fellow in the Transformation of Aspirational District Programme of NITI Aayog in Begusarai, Bihar. This equipped him with proper professional skills, capacity building, and provided him with a platform to work on quality education. He supported 129 government schools in two block-level education departments through capacitive building of block officers, cluster coordinators, head masters, teachers and community on more than 6 school processes. Later he was selected for a special project to support the Jehanabad district administration in documentation and strategy creation for Jal Shakti Abhjiyan under the guidance of the District Magistrate. After the successful completion, Shashi released a self-made documentary about Jal Shakti Abhiyan Jehanabad by Shri Barun Mitra, Ad. Secretary, Defence Production with Jehanabad DM and district administration. He wants to serve communities in their development (physical, cognitive, social, and spiritual) process and public policy to witness the change. He wants to promote stories of change through the means of storytelling and social documentaries. He believes in the power of stories to transform lives in the context of India.

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