About the Video: Nestled between the blackened pits of the TATA and CCL coal mines, the community of Ramgarh district in the state of Jharkhand has been left without access to basic drinking water. Before the mining companies came in, water was accessed by digging a mere 6-8 feet below the ground but now the deepest wells, about three to five times the depth, are running on empty. Continuous mining has dried out the traditional community wells. While the groundwater is being spirited away, rain water has no chance to replenish the falling water table. The rains collect and stagnate with the pollutants in the mining pits.
When the mines were planned, the mining companies had promised clean drinking water to the community and for a while it seemed that they would live up to the promises. New wells were constructed. Hand pumps were installed. Regular tankers of water were sent to the villages.
Then one day, the tankers stopped coming. The wells dried up and the hand pumps had no more water to yield. The nearby agricultural land began to lose its fertility. Farmers lost their livelihoods. The nearest source of clean water was over two kilometres away. With few options, the community began to use the water in collected in the pits and their health took a toll. They were plagued with skin rashes and allergies.
Lacking options, they took their problems to the gates of the mining companies and reminded them of their promises. They were given an application form. The application once completed would be processed by the companies. Depending on if they feel that the situation as presented in the application is grave/important enough, a tanker may/may not be sent.
The Issue: The vision of modern India has come at a heavy price and the Damodar River Valley in the state of Jharkhand has been one of the unwilling victims who have paid the toll for progress. The abundant water once supported diverse flora and fauna and the lives and livelihoods of the tribal, fishing and agricultural communities living along its fertile banks. Once a year, the abundance spilled over causing flooding and devastation. Even if these events earned the river the unfortunate moniker of 'river of sorrow', it was a cyclic event that the communities had learned to cope with.
In 1984, the Government of India introduced the Damodar Valley Project to control the flooding by using the water to generate hydro and thermal power. Industrialization came to valley promising a better future with no floods and electricity for all. A little over 25 years have passed and it has now become one of the most polluted river basins in the world.
The Damodar river flows across some of the most mineral rich parts of the country -- the Chota Nagpur plateau with its reserves of mica, bauxite, copper, iron ore, lime stone and coal. It had the raw materials that laid the foundation of India's industrial revolution. The majority of the coal consumed in the country is mined from the region. The land has become the base for hundreds of industrial units. With mines, washeries, furnaces and the infrastructure, coal spawned an industry of its own.
Setting up a coal mine destroys the immediate landscape. There is large scale deforestation and the quality of the land and soil is irreparably affected. The mine renders it unfit for any other purpose. The altering of land depletes the ground water. Dust and coal particles released in the mining and processing of the coal pollutes the air. They are a health hazard known to cause severe respiratory ailments. The gases that emanate from the mines are greenhouse gases that contribute towards global warming. The toxic drainage and loose soil not only pollutes the nearby sources of water but also finds its way to the ground water reserves damaging the quality of water.
The effects of mining are long-standing. Even if the mine is shut and abandoned, the land is forever damaged. Chances of recovery are nil. The 'river of sorrow' had turned to sludge.
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