The coal thieves

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I am really sorry for not being able to upload the pictures

These are two pictures that I took on my recent visit to my native place in Dhanbad, the coal capital of India. Blame it on my camera if the pics are not very clear.

It might have been around 4 in the morning and I was at a roadside dhaba, sipping tea while the mechanic was doing some minor repairs to my bike.

Suddenly my eyes moved towards the road.

A group of people were carrying huge sacks on their bicycles. Even though the early morning temperature was cold enough for a coal region, I could see them wiping the sweat with their gamchas (Towels).

These sacks contained coal, about half a ton in weight, and brought from one of the many coal mines nearby – illegally.

Yes, illegal mining of coal is rampant here; although authorities will seldom accept it.

The coal mafia, in collusion with the politicians, bureaucrats and employees of Government-owned coal companies, run this racket. Coal is stolen from active mines. Sometimes active mines are declared empty and the coal mafia gets a free license to extract coal. The coal extraction process is often obsolete and uses little to no safety measures for the coal diggers, thereby hazarding the lives of coal diggers.

The coal diggers or coal thieves are generally locals. Living on bare minimal, they are ready to play dare-devils for the petty wages offered by the coal mafia.

Without the safety gear necessary for coal digging, they set out for stealing coal, often in the dead of the night. The compensation is on the basis of the number of sacks of coal extracted. Therefore, entire families come in the trade. The sacks of coal are loaded upon the bicycles and the miner carries them to faraway places walking.

Accidents happen frequently. Apart from the illegal coal mining, Sujata used to day work at Aniket Chaterjee’s home. When she didn’t come for two days at a stretch, Aniket went searching for her at the village. Only to hear that she was dead. A boulder of coal had dropped on her while she was busy chiselling out a coal block. She died at the spot.

Accidents happen when rain water drains inside underground coal mines. Government owned coal mines take necessary precautions to prevent occurrences as these. However, in illegal mining, these accidents go unreported. The bodies are found only after the water recedes.

Once in a blue moon, the Vigilance Department launches a check against illegal mining. Again it is these unfortunate people who are booked. Their livelihood, the bicycle, is seized. Some have to spend a night in the jail as well.

For a few days the illegal mining comes to a stop – only to rebound as soon as the vigilance officers return to their comfortable offices. The coal diggers buy new bicycles and again set out for an overnight coal theft expedition, leaving aside the concerns for life, since there are more lives waiting to be fed back home.

Here’s another post on Jharia, a township in Dhanbad that is dying. Read here how?

The dying city of Jharia


3 thoughts on “The coal thieves

  1. Kudos to you for raising up this issue on your blog. I don’t know how we can help things like these but at least we can raise awareness. good work.

  2. Pingback: Dadi’s Story « ItyaAdi

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