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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
Name of conflict:Coal mining fires and many other conflicts in coal fields of Dhanbad, Jharkhand, India
State or province:Jharkhand
Location of conflict:Dhanbad
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Mineral Ores and Building Materials Extraction
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Water access rights and entitlements
Coal extraction and processing
Landfills, toxic waste treatment, uncontrolled dump sites
Tailings from mines
Transport infrastructure networks (roads, railways, hydroways, canals and pipelines)
Land acquisition conflicts
Pollution related to transport (spills, dust, emissions)
Water treatment and access to sanitation (access to sewage)
Climate change related conflicts (glaciers and small islands)
Specific commodities:Land
Forest products
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Dhanbad 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:27,000
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:1,125,000
Start of the conflict:01/01/1971
Company names or state enterprises:Bharat Coking Coal Limited, TISCO, Tata Steel, Eastern Coalfields Limited (ECL), Indian Iron And Steel Company (IISCO) (BCCL) from India
Relevant government actors:District 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 organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Centre for Science and Environment (CSE)
Jharkhand Mines Area Coordination Committee (JMACC)
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Artisanal miners
Industrial workers
Informal workers
Landless peasants
Trade unions
Forms of mobilization:Creation 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
Other Environmental impactsLand 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..)
Other Health impactsBreathing Problem, Vomiting, Lung infection, pneumoconiosis, asthma, tuberculosis, water borne diseases like typhoid, cholera, dysentery, diarrhoea and in children pneumonia, viral diseases, malnutrition
Socio-economical 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
Other socio-economic impactsPeople are either migrating or getting involved with illegal coal mining to earn their means of livelihood
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Deaths, Assassinations, Murders
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain: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 & Materials
References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

The Voice of Jharkhand
[click to view]

Welfare Schemes/Programmes by Mining Companies
[click to view]

Census 2011
[click to view]

Integrated Management Information System (IMIS), Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation
[click to view]

Bharat Coking Coal Limited
[click to view]

Centre for Science and Environment
[click to view]

Report from Dhanbad Coal Fields
[click to view]

Living with fire in India's Jharia
[click to view]

Fatal plunge in mine
[click to view]

Overview of Coal Mining in India: Investigative Report from Dhanbad Coal Fields
[click to view]

15 Photos That Reveal The ‘Dirty’ Work That Sustains One Of India’s Largest Coal Mines
[click to view]

The Dhanbad -Jharia Coal-Mining Area
[click to view]

Business and Economy of Dhanbad
[click to view]

Coal Cycle Wallahs of Dhanbad
[click to view]

Supreme Court gives breather to mining companies, clarifies on DMF payment
[click to view]

(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
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Rachna Kashyap, Kalpavriksha
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:3193
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