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India’s Land of Forests and Its Resource Curse

Due to incessant mining, Jharkhand or “the land of forests” suffers from the 'paradox of plenty'—the impoverishment of the local population in a resource rich land. This photo essay is a stark reminder of the ruthless exploitation of people and the devastation of the once-green land.

A Photo Essay by Abhishek Basu

Forty percent of India’s natural resources are found in Jharkhand  (or “the land of forests”). The state suffers from what is called the “paradox of plenty” or “resource curse” wherein the population of an area with abundant natural resources suffers from deep poverty. The coal mining companies employ workers, mostly migrants, on contract basis to minimise their expenditure. The locals are left to either migrate or get involved with illegal mining. They carry and sell coal illegally on a daily basis to earn their livelihood.

These photographs taken in Baghmara, Nirsa, Egarkund, Kaliyasol, Govindpur, Baliapur, Dhanbad and Topchachi attempt to capture the profound sense of hopelessness at the loss that Jharkhand and its people have faced due to incessant mining.

India’s demand for power has been rising constantly, including after the lockdown. In October 2021, coal-fired power stations that produce 70 per cent of India’s power announced that they had an average of four days of coal left, the lowest in years. With the onset of the unseasonal November rains, these open cast mines of Jharkhand are witnessing a sizzling down of their fires which hinders production and supplies. This has caused the migrant workers to work overtime in an increased number of shifts to keep the fires burning. In September 2021, China made a climate pledge to halt coal projects abroad. This came as a setback for many developing nations that relied on Chinese expertise and financing for coal plants. Subsequently, there was increased pressure on the mines of Dhanbad to Baghmara.

These migrants have come to the city from nearby villages in search of employment. Every morning, they wait for contractors in the labour market. Dhanbad, Jharkhand. PHOTO: Abhishek Basu
An underground coal miner takes a pause inside an underground chamber in the Barora coal mine. Dhanbad, Jharkhand.
A poor neighbourhood in the older part of the city where many Dalit migrants from surrounding states live. Borara, India.
Families of coal miners live above the fire in Jharia within the perimeters of the government coal mines. They often steal coal pieces to sell at a small profit, risking regular ground cave-ins and death by accidental falling into the holes of fire. Dhanbad, India.
A family of four manually transporting coal through rising poisonous flames from beneath the ground. The land around the areas has burned for a century as a result of mining and venting gases. Jharia, India.
Migrant coal workers walk to illegal sites in order to find daily wage work for a mere Rs.120 a day. The high temperatures, toxic fumes, and the contaminated water constantly puts their lives in danger. Baliapur, India.
An old Ambassador passes through a barren open cast coal mine. Excessive mining and resulting fires in the Dhanbad and Jharia areas are in grave violation of ecological as well as human rights. Jharia, India