Pockmarked earth: The under-mining of environment

[Covering Deprivation]

BY Aihik Sur

Chandrapur: The eastern Maharashtra villages of Baranj and Telwasa lie in the Chandrapur coal mining belt. Some of the mines are active and while other are now defunct. They have led to the deterioration of the environment in and around these villages which has led to serious repercussions for the residents.

The coal mine at Baranj closed in 2014. The mine is now a black desert with small hillocks scattered here and there, formed by dumping of coal.

“Now that the mines are closed, it seems fine”, said Sachin Charluke, a resident of Baranj. “But when the mine was open, the ground water from the surrounding areas was sucked into the mine because it got deeper every year. This left the surrounding areas with insufficient ground water level,” he added.

“The black water that flows out of the mine is laced with phosphorus. It runs into the Wardha River which results in its contamination,” continued Charluke. The villages by the river and around the coal mines use this water and there have been numerous cases of water-related diseases.

As per the Central Ground Water Board report, fluoride is a common contaminant in Chandrapur district while high nitrate levels are also found in some of the areas in the district. Endemic fluorosis, dental caries, mottling of teeth, pain in joints and other such diseases have been observed in Chandrapur district by various investigating agencies.

According to Charluke, the water filter machine which was installed in the mines is just for show and doesn’t work. It’s just been put in place for the officials to show them that some action has been taken.

Maruti Nimkar, the guard at the closed coal mine at Baranj, said, “When the mine stays open there is dust all around. The trees which you see are green right now would be black then.”

Sandeep, a resident of Baranj village, used to work at the mines. He said, “Before the mines were established the whole area was farming land. Now the temperatures have increased considerably and the temperature in the mines touches 50 degree Celsius.”

Pointing at a nearby pond filled with moss where local women were washing clothes, Sandeep said, “This pond along with other wells nearby would dry up when the mines reopen. We would have to go a well which is 3 km from here.”

Telwasa, unlike Baranj, is situated right beside an active coal mine. A small village, it was shrouded in a thick smog which was visible from a distance. The distance between the village and mine is nearly 500ft.

The village gets direct water supply from the Ordnance Factory nearby. “The water is not clean, people have to drink this water and they get ill”, said Gopinath Khande, a villager. He added, “The water from the borewell can’t be drunk too because the coal mines have polluted it.”

According to Pratiksha Nagrale, 18, “There are plans of extending the coal mine up till the Wardha river. They have acquired more land there. When they do that the river will be ruined completely. Right now there’s still something left, after that the water won’t be usable.”

The river was covered in black and yellow grime indicating the presence of phosphorus. Fishermen complained that the number of fish has decreased in the river, and that they had to look for other employment.