For burn­ing prob­lem in Jharia’s coal­fields, a dif­fi­cult so­lu­tion

CON­TIN­U­OUS UN­DER­GROUND FIRES IN THE COAL­FIELDS OF JHARIA, JHARK­HAND, HAVE LED TO MEA­SURES BE­ING PLANNED TO MOVE TRAIN OP­ER­A­TIONS OUT AND RE­HA­BIL­I­TATE RES­I­DENTS. HOW­EVER, THIS IS NO EASY TASK, EX­PLAINS PRASHANT PANDEY

Resource Digest - - CONTENTS -

WHAT HAS BEEN THE PROB­LEM IN JHARIA OVER THE YEARS? Un­safe and il­le­gal min­ing has led to fires in coal de­posits un­der the sur­face of the Jharia coal­fields in Jhark­hand’s Dhan­bad district, which span over 160 square kilo­me­tres. They now pose a risk to the pop­u­la­tion liv­ing on the sur­face, can lead to cave-ins and gas- spills and are a threat to rail trans­port. While the first sub­ter­ranean blaze was no­ticed in 1916 and var­i­ous re­ports and stud­ies have sounded the alarm over the years, the author­i­ties be­gan seek­ing a com­pre­hen­sive so­lu­tion only in the early 2000s. Of­fi­cials main­tain that Bharat Cok­ing Coal Ltd (BCCL), a sub­sidiary of Coal In­dia Ltd (CIL), in­her­ited a trou­bled legacy when the mines were na­tion­alised in the early 1970s. Most of the af­fected mines date back be­fore In­de­pen­dence and na­tion­al­i­sa­tion (pri­vate own­ers ran col­lieries ear­lier), when the thrust was on pro­duc­tion and profit, with lit­tle re­gard for safety. WHAT IS THE EX­TENT OF THE PROB­LEM?

When the coal mines were na­tion­alised in 1971, at least 70 min­ing ar­eas within Jharia were on fire. The prob­lem later spread to seven more min­ing zones. The number of af­fected ar­eas has re­duced to about 67, as around 10 fires have been ex­tin­guished us­ing dif­fer­ent meth­ods. Many rail routes, in­clud­ing the key Dhan­bad-chan­dra­pura line that is cur­rently in fo­cus, fall in the af­fected re­gion. One ar­te­rial route — the Dhan­bad-patherdih line — was closed down in 2007. The Adra (West Ben­gal)-go­moh line is func­tional, but on a slightly di­verted route.

WHAT IS BE­ING DONE NOW?

The prin­ci­pal sec­re­tary to the Prime Min­is­ter held a meet­ing of stake­hold­ers on May 22 and sought time-bound ac­tion on the shift­ing out of ar­te­rial rail­way lines through Jharia, as well as re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion. This comes amid con­cerns about land around the tracks cav­ing in. On May 30, Jhark­hand Chief Sec­re­tary Ra­jbala Verma vis­ited the af­fected area and the re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion colony. Jharia Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion and De­vel­op­ment Author­ity (JRDA), formed by the Cen­tre, has now been asked to look into the pos­si­bil­ity of putting pre­fab­ri­cated struc­tures at the re­set­tle­ment site to in­crease the number of houses as quickly as pos­si­ble. The re­set­tle­ment colony will soon have a po­lice out­post, an an­gan­wadi cen­tre, a health cen­tre and potable drink­ing wa­ter, which res­i­dents who have been pro­vided hous­ing there have been com­plain­ing about. The rail­ways too has been asked to draw up its di­ver­sion plan for the Dhan­bad-chan­dra­pura line. WHY IS THE DHAN­BAD-CHAN­DRA­PURA LINE IM­POR­TANT? Un­like a cou­ple of the other af­fected rail lines, the nearly 41-km Dhan­bad-chan­dra­pura line is used by 37 pairs of daily train ser­vices, which in­clude ex­press, mail and pas­sen­ger trains. Some of the im­por­tant trains in­clude the Howrah-ranchi Shatabdi Ex­press, Patna-ranchi Jan­shatabdi Ex­press, Dhan­bad-patna Patal­ipu­tra Ex­press, Ha­tia-gorakh­pur Mau­rya Ex­press, Dhan­badalap­puzha Ex­press, Garib Rath Ex­press and Howrah-ja­balpur Shak­tipunj Ex­press. Be­sides, there are goods trains that carry ex­ca­vated coal from the mines.

If the rail line is shut, it would lead to rev­enue losses of close to Rs 2,500 crore. Be­sides, cre­at­ing a new di­ver­sion alone is ex­pected to cost around Rs 3,000 crore. So far, the author­i­ties have iden­ti­fied the Si­jua, Sen­dra-ban­sjora and An­garpathra ar­eas as be­ing par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble to fires. While there is no of­fi­cial word on how close to the rail­way track the fire has reached, it is more or less clear that shift­ing the rail line is the only long-term op­tion that the author­i­ties are look­ing at.

WHAT ARE THE PROB­LEMS IN SHIFT­ING THE LINES? ARE THERE AL­TER­NA­TIVES?

Rail­way of­fi­cials cite a number of prob­lems as­so­ci­ated with the task of clos­ing down the Dhan­bad-chan­dra­pura line. There is pres­sure from the lo­cal pop­u­la­tion, sev­eral thou­sand of whom de­pend on the line, not to close down the line. A com­pletely new line would mean chalk­ing out a fresh route, en­sur­ing align­ment with the ex­ist­ing net­work, ac­quir­ing land, and set­ting up rail tracks and sta­tion in­fra­struc­ture. Even if all these fac­tors fall in place, the whole process would take at least three to four years. Of­fi­cials are mulling the pos­si­bil­ity of keep­ing the track alive by mit­i­gat­ing the fire-re­lated cir­cum­stances at the three most vul­ner­a­ble points (Si­jua, Sen­dra-ban­sjora and An­garpathra). Al­ready, with the help of Cen­tral In­sti­tute of Min­ing and Fuel Re­search (CIMFR), they have be­gun im­ple­ment­ing such mea­sures along the tracks. These in­clude push­ing ni­tro­gen foam mixed with wa­ter through bore­holes in the af­fected mines, fill­ing up of cav­i­ties with sand and mud to cut off oxy­gen sup­plies and sprin­kling of wa­ter to lower tem­per­a­tures.

IS THERE ANY AS­SESS­MENT ON JUST HOW MUCH TIME THE AUTHOR­I­TIES HAVE AT HAND TO PRE­VENT A POS­SI­BLE DIS­AS­TER ON THE TRACKS?

No. The Rail­ways was told in 2005 that the Dhan­bad­chan­dra­pura line has be­come dan­ger­ous for rail move­ment. In the 12 years since, nei­ther min­ing nor rail traf­fic have stopped, say rail­way of­fi­cials. There has, how­ever, been no cav­ing in of the rail track so far.

The Rail­ways and other agen­cies tasked with tack­ling the fires say that un­til a new line comes up, fire -mit­i­gat­ing mea­sures may help them buy time. But with plans still not firmed up, there is no cer­tainty on how long it will take to un­fold.

HOW HAVE EAR­LIER RE­HA­BIL­I­TA­TION EF­FORTS PANNED OUT OVER THE YEARS?

Af­ter go­ing through revisions in 2004 and 2006, the last Mas­ter Plan for re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion was drawn up in 2008. The process was ex­pected to be com­pleted in 10 to 12 years. Now in 2017, how­ever, re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion has not even reached the half­way mark.

The ef­forts are be­ing un­der­taken in a multi-agency en­vi­ron­ment. Apart from Rail In­dia Tech­ni­cal and Eco­nomic Ser­vice, other agen­cies in­volved are the Direc­torate Gen­eral of Mines Safety, CIMFR, Cen­tral Mine Plan­ning and De­sign In­sti­tute, Rail­ways, BCCL, JRDA (with the divi­sional com­mis­sioner as its chair­man) and the district ad­min­is­tra­tion.

JRDA of­fi­cials say that their tar­get is to con­struct 10,000 houses at the Bel­gar­hia re­set­tle­ment colony, 7 km from the rail­way sta­tion and un­der the Bal­li­a­pur po­lice sta­tion. So far, 4,000 houses have been con­structed and only 2,110 fam­i­lies have been shifted in the last six years.

Also, JRDA is sup­posed to iden­tify and shift only NON-BCCL res­i­dents (in­clud­ing en­croach­ers), while BCCL it­self is sup­posed to take care of its em­ploy­ees. BCCL claims that it will have no prob­lem shift­ing its em­ploy­ees, al­though it em­ploys hun­dreds in the af­fected ar­eas.

HOW WELL HAVE THE VAR­I­OUS AGEN­CIES CO­OR­DI­NATED AMONG THEM­SELVES?

With dif­fi­culty, if at all. For in­stance, rail­way of­fi­cials say that the Dhan­bad-patherdih line was handed over to BCCL in 2007 for re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion and restora­tion by 2022. The idea was to re­move the tracks and other util­i­ties and ex­tract the re­main­ing coal in the area and then re­store the earth, on which the rail line could be laid again and ser­vices re­sumed. So far, say of­fi­cials, noth­ing much has hap­pened on the ground and only five years re­main of the stip­u­lated pe­riod. BCCL of­fi­cials say that it is up to the JRDA to move the pop­u­la­tion from the af­fected ar­eas. JRDA of­fi­cials say they have been try­ing but sev­eral is­sues have cropped up. Ide­ally, the va­cated ar­eas, in­clud­ing houses, need to be de­mol­ished by BCCL. How­ever, there have been cases where the re­ha­bil­i­tated peo­ple have re­turned to their old houses.

WHAT IS THE SIT­U­A­TION ON THE GROUND?

Though rail move­ment has not been af­fected so far, the ac­tual sit­u­a­tion due to the un­der­ground fire was un­der­lined by an in­ci­dent that took place in the Phu­laribad area of Jharia on May 24. A fa­ther and son, Babloo An­sari and Rahim, fell into a pit that had opened up just out­side their garage, bel­low­ing car­bon monox­ide. The NDRF team could not get down into the pit, with tem­per­a­tures re­main­ing in the high 80 and 90 de­grees. Cut­ting trenches around the hole did not help ei­ther. Fi­nally — when the bod­ies of the two could not be re­trieved in three days — they were closed. The fam­ily has left the area fear­ing that oth­ers too would die.

Fol­low­ing the in­ci­dent, JRDA has al­lot­ted houses to 27 fam­i­lies, in­clud­ing the vic­tims’ fam­ily, in Bel­garia. Two days af­ter the in­ci­dent, four other per­sons fell un­con­scious in an­other area of Jharia when the land sub­sided and cre­ated a cav­ity, em­a­nat­ing poi­sonous gases.

AF­TER GO­ING THROUGH REVISIONS IN 2004 AND 2006, THE LAST MAS­TER PLAN FOR RE­HA­BIL­I­TA­TION WAS DRAWN UP IN 2008

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India

© PressReader. All rights reserved.