Underground fires burning for more than a century have forced authorities in India to evacuate a college and stop railway operations in the dangerous zone lest passenger trains fall into the inferno below the surface.
The first underground fires in Jharia coalfields of Jharkhand state in eastern India were reported way back in 1916 and all attempts to extinguish them have miserably failed so far. To prevent deaths, Bhagatdih’s historic Raja Shiv Prasad College, which has 6000 students on its rolls, has just been shifted to a safer site in Jamadoba six km away
And as more and more land in the affected area has started cracking or caving in due to subterranean fires, railway officials have decided not to run passenger trains on the 41-km stretch between Chandrapura and Dhanbad.
The gravity of the situation can be gauged from the fact the Nripendra Mishra, Principal Secretary to Prime Minister Narendra Modi – arguably the nation’s most powerful bureaucrat – chaired a meeting of senior officers from the ministries of Coal and Railways, the Geological Survey of India, Jharkhand government and other departments, prior to the suspension of passenger train service between Chandrapura and Dhanbad.
Analysts say it is high time the Indian government tackles the situation on a war footing in the national interest without wasting any more time. As the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is in power in the country as well as in the state of Jharkhand, the federal and state governments can easily pool their resources without political rivalry throwing a spanner in the works.