My fourth trip to India was in January 2017. Because I had already anticipated a difficult trip, I made a big effort to plan the travel in detail. On that trip, I had a driver (he didn' t speak English) to take me to Jharia. 

Jharia represents the largest coal reserves in India having estimated reserves of 19.4 billion tonnes of coal coke. A good number of India's trains, until the early 90s, depended on coal to produce that sweet whistle and chugging sound. Even today, over 65 percent of India's power supply is generated from coal.

The coalfield lies in the Damodar River Valley,  covers about 110 square miles (280 square km), and produces bituminous coal suitable for coke.

Overall, Jharia is home to two large underground and nine large open cast mines. Jharia coal mine is spread across an area of 450 sqkm with nearly 5 lakh lives depending on the region.

Since 2007, more than 400,000 people who reside in Jharia are living on the land in danger of subsidence due to the fires. Heavy fumes emitted by the fires lead to severe health problems such as breathing disorders and skin diseases among the local population. 

At Jharia and nearby regions, the fire continued to destroy the underground at 67 different areas. In many places, coal is burned at temperatures up to 700 degrees centigrade, a few meters below the earth's surface, defying all human efforts to extinguish it. 

The underground fire has contaminated the soil, water, and air in Jharia and nearby areas. Trees and vegetation are dying in most places of this arid dystopian landscape. Poisonous gases such as sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, and arsenic are released into the atmosphere in the form of smoke that emits at all times.

It was a memorable place that I will never forget.


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