Rehabilitation has been delayed due to bureaucratic miscalculations and inadequate allocations where large families who used to live in five-room houses are being given two-room flats.
Dhanbad: Nearly one lakh families in the 280-square-kilometre Jharia coalfield region of Jharkhand continue to live dangerously. An underground fire in India’s largest coal reserve, raging since 1916, has caused the earth to sink and render buildings unsafe. Even the air is hazardous as cracks in the sunken earth emit heat, fire and poisonous gases.
the lone solution to the miseries of these families, has been faulty; large
families which lived in five-room houses have been provided two-room flats. The
situation has been exacerbated by large-scale encroachments and a miscalculation
in the number of households in the mining zone. All this has led to sons and
their families living in the old, dangerous homes, while the parents live in
the new rehabilitation quarters in nearby Belgaria.
Pandey (30), his wife and three children are among the people whose families
have been divided by the rehabilitation. A resident of Liloripathra, one of the
underground fire-affected sites at Jharia, Pandey fears a cave-in at his house, like what happened at his neighbour Surendra Pandey’s home on June
13. “There is now a 30-foot-deep, 10-foot-wide crater there,” he said.
70-year-old father, Alakhdeo Pandey, lives in a two-room quarter at Belgaria with
his wife and two bachelor sons, Sanjay Pandey and Chhotelal Pandey. “My father,
initially, waited for a separate quarter to be allotted to my family, but he
shifted when nothing happened,” said Vikram, who could not move with his father’s
family as the quarter has only two rooms.
coalfield region comprises 1.04 lakh families, according to the last survey by Coal India Limited subsidiary, CMPDIL. However, when the rehabilitation had initially been planned in 1999, only 54,159 households were counted. This is because the initial figure was reached on the
basis of the number of employees with Bharat Coking Coal Limited (BCCL) that year, and the new
figure was reached after the Supreme Court ordered a fresh survey, which was carried out
between 2006 and 2020. The Supreme Court
had intervened on the basis of a petition filed by Asansol legislator Haradhan
About 78,000 of the 1.04 lakh families come under the 'encroachers' category. This means the homes in which they are living do not belong to them; rather they have constructed their houses illegally on BCCL land or other unoccupied government lands. The government has decided to provide rehabilitation to only those 'encroacher families which could prove they had been living in the coalfield region before 2004. The compensation package and rehabilitation plan for legal titleholders have not yet been decided.
Vikram Pandey (left), Deepak Kumar Chaudhary and Urmila Devi are among the thousands of people who are divided from their families due to the inadequate allocation process (Picture credit - Praduman Choubey)
major reason behind the rise in the number of families is the 14-year duration
of the survey. Many people like Vikram got married during this period and went to create their own families. Though the government rehabilitated the first batch
of 216 families in 2009, a total of only 5,000 families have been rehabilitated
to date in Belgaria, a colony developed by the Jharia Rehabilitation and
Development Authority (JRDA). The rehabilitation is being carried out as part of
the Jharia master plan, which is being executed by JRDA.
remaining families continue to live around the 595 underground fire-affected
sites of the coalfield region.
and his neighbour Dipak Kumar Chaudhary (29) said their parental homes were big
and could accommodate the entire joint family. Vikram said his family home had
five rooms and was spread over 120 square metres, while the two-room quarter
his father had been allotted measured 35 square metres. “The
stench from the cracks in the ground chokes us. It worsens during monsoon as
rainwater seeps through the cracks and aggravates the emission of smoke,” said Vikram.
said he had the documents to prove he had been living in Liloripathra before 2004.
“If my father has been allotted a house based on the same documents, why can’t I
be allotted one too?” he said.
said his father Vilash Chaudhary (60), who works at an iron-welding unit, had
been allotted a quarter at Belgaria around a year ago after incidents of
subsidence increased in their neighbourhood. He said his father did not move
there as the flat’s doors and windows were missing and electric wiring had been
stolen. “We complained to JRDA several times,
but the problem has not been fixed. This has forced us to stay back,” he said.
said even if they moved to the new quarters, it would be too small as his family
comprised him, his wife, father, mother and two younger brothers.
Deputy Commissioner Sandeep Kumar, who is the ex officio managing director of
JRDA, said rehabilitation was being provided as per norms. “When it comes to members
of the same family not being provided separate quarters, we will have to check if
they had been living in different houses or the same one at fire-affected sites.
They will be provided separate quarters at Belgaria only if they had been
living in different houses,” he said.
The DC’s statement meant that people like Vikram and Dipak would not get any relief from the government.
Kujama Basti, a fire-affected area, where families continue to live in fear and in dangerous conditions (Picture credit - Praduman Choubey)
Kujama Basti, which is 3 km from Liloripathra, the situation is just as bad. “We
live in Belgaria, but we are always concerned about the wellbeing of my elder
son and his family. They live in Kujama Basti and the transit between our homes
is adding to our expenses,” said Urmila Devi (65).
said her elder son, Ranjit Bhatt, had made several rounds of the JRDA office in
Dhanbad with the same documents as furnished by her husband to prove he had been
staying at Kujama Basti before 2004. “My
husband, two married sons, their wives and four children and I, had been
living together at Kujama Basti. As the fire situation aggravated around a year
ago, a quarter each was allocated my husband and younger son,” she said.
Ranjit, meanwhile, still lives in the fire zone with his wife and children. “I worry about them all day,” said Devi.
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