Coal mining fires and many other conflicts in coal fields of Dhanbad, Jharkhand, India

Excessive coal mining and fires in the Dhanbad and Jharia area are seriously violating ecological as well as human rights. This case tries to give a brief overlook at full range of the coal mining conflicts.


Dhanbad is one of the 24 districts in the state of Jharkhand. It is located in the mid-eastern part of Jharkhand, with Giridih in the north, Bokaro in the west, Jamtara district in the east, and Purulia district (of West Bengal) in the south. It is famous for the disaster in 1965  in Dhori colliery near Dhanbad, which led to fire in the mines. The fire killed hundreds of miners. There are frequent major incidents because of underground coal fires. In early 2017 it was reported that trains would not run because in the Dhanbad-Chandrapur section because of a raging underground coal mine fire. The Dhanbad-Chandrapur section is a major route for passenger and freight trains. Coal for thermal power plants across the country is transported from there. The underground coal mine fires in the Jharia district have been raging  since the last century but in recent decades open-cast mining has brought the flames to the surface with devastating consequences for the local population. (1).

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Basic Data
NameCoal mining fires and many other conflicts in coal fields of Dhanbad, Jharkhand, India
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Mineral Ores and Building Materials Extraction
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Tailings from mines
Landfills, toxic waste treatment, uncontrolled dump sites
Land acquisition conflicts
Climate change related conflicts (glaciers and small islands)
Coal extraction and processing
Water access rights and entitlements
Water treatment and access to sanitation (access to sewage)
Transport infrastructure networks (roads, railways, hydroways, canals and pipelines)
Pollution related to transport (spills, dust, emissions)
Specific CommoditiesElectricity
Forest products
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsDhanbad is the India’s main centre for coking coal, a particular type of coal important for steel production. Bharat Coking Coal Limited (BCCL), TISCO, Tata Steel, Eastern Coalfields Limited (ECL) and Indian Iron And Steel Company (IISCO) are some of the major companies that are involved in mining at Dhanbad distrct. The coal mines were nationalized in 1971, and a majority of the mines in the region are now owned by the state-owned BCCL. Till 1973, underground mining was more of the norm, but a premium on profits has changed things since then, and open cast mining is the preferred method now. The official coal mines produce 27.5 million tonnes of coal annually with an annual income of 7000 million rupees. Trucks loaded with coal and heavy machinery dominate the scenery, interrupted by push-carts and bicycles loaded with coal. Hence, the other key actor are the locals who carry coal illegally on daily basis and sell them to earn their livelihood. The coal mining companies employ workers on contract basis and mostly the migrants to minimise their expenditure on wages. The locals either migrate or get involved with illegal mining. The mines are spread almost all over the district. Baghmara, Nirsa, Egarkund, Kaliyasol, Govindpur, Baliapur, Dhanbad and Topchachi are the 8 blocks among 10 that are partially or completely mining affected.
Project Area (in hectares)27,000
Type of PopulationRural
Potential Affected Population1,125,000
Start Date01/01/1971
Company Names or State EnterprisesBharat Coking Coal Limited, TISCO, Tata Steel, Eastern Coalfields Limited (ECL), Indian Iron And Steel Company (IISCO) (BCCL) from India
Relevant government actorsDistrict Mineral Foundation, Government of India, Government of Jharkhand, Ministry of Environment, Ministry of Tribal Affairs, Directorate General of Mines safety, The Industries and Commerce Association, Ministry of coal, Department of science and Technology, Ministry of rural development
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersCentre for Science and Environment (CSE)

Jharkhand Mines Area Coordination Committee (JMACC)
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)LOW (some local organising)
When did the mobilization beginMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups MobilizingArtisanal miners
Industrial workers
Informal workers
Landless peasants
Trade unions
Forms of MobilizationCreation of alternative reports/knowledge
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Media based activism/alternative media
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Occupation of buildings/public spaces
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Desertification/Drought, Fires, Food insecurity (crop damage), Global warming, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution, Soil contamination, Soil erosion, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Mine tailing spills, Other Environmental impacts
OtherLand sinking
Health ImpactsVisible: Accidents, Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Health problems related to alcoholism, prostitution, Occupational disease and accidents, Infectious diseases, Deaths, Other environmental related diseases, Other Health impacts, Malnutrition
Potential: Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..)
OtherBreathing Problem, Vomiting, Lung infection, pneumoconiosis, asthma, tuberculosis, water borne diseases like typhoid, cholera, dysentery, diarrhoea and in children pneumonia, viral diseases, malnutrition
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Displacement, Increase in violence and crime, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Specific impacts on women, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Other socio-economic impacts
Potential: Militarization and increased police presence
OtherPeople are either migrating or getting involved with illegal coal mining to earn their means of livelihood
Project StatusIn operation
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCompensation
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
Do you consider this as a success?No
Why? Explain briefly.BCCL and the private mining companies through their CSR provide the facilities of health, education, livelihood, electricity and proper sanitation to the people living in the mining-affected areas. The mining companies are also mandated to preserve the environment. However, the alternatives created are not there in the implementation. There is lack of availability of drinking water, air is polluted to the extent that people find it difficult to breathe, temperature of areas near by mines have increased , there is always a fear of land sinking among people. There are several incidences of land sinking causing deaths.
Sources and Materials

The Voice of Jharkhand
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Welfare Schemes/Programmes by Mining Companies
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Census 2011
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Bharat Coking Coal Limited
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Integrated Management Information System (IMIS), Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation
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Centre for Science and Environment
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Living with fire in India's Jharia
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Report from Dhanbad Coal Fields
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The Dhanbad -Jharia Coal-Mining Area
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Fatal plunge in mine
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Overview of Coal Mining in India: Investigative Report from Dhanbad Coal Fields
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(1) India: The Burning City. We investigate how an underground fire that has been burning for 100 years has led to one of India's largest land grabs. 05 Jan 2017
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15 Photos That Reveal The ‘Dirty’ Work That Sustains One Of India’s Largest Coal Mines
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Coal Cycle Wallahs of Dhanbad
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Business and Economy of Dhanbad
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Supreme Court gives breather to mining companies, clarifies on DMF payment
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Media Links

Other Documents

Mine tracks
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Open mines
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Meta Information
ContributorRachna Kashyap, Kalpavriksha
Last update08/01/2018
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