‘Like hell’: India’s burning coalfields (France24.com -July 14, 2023)


Dhanbad (India) (AFP) ā€“ Deadly fires have raged for a century in mines in India’s Jharkhand state, where Savitri Mahto is one of 100,000 people risking their lives shovelling coal to supply insatiable demand.

“The land is charred because of the fires,” said Mahto, 22, illegally scavenging amid the flames on the edge of a vast commercial opencast mine for the dirty fossil fuel. “We live in fear every day”. Underground fires, which scientists believe started in a mine accident in 1916, create sinkholes that swallow people and homes. Coal pickers and activists report hundreds of people have died over the decades.

“Accidents have happened before, and they keep on happening because the land is sinking,” Mahto told AFP, as she tended a stack of burning rocks to produce coking coal, a more stable fuel sold for cooking and firing brick kilns.

“It is dangerous to live here,” said Mahto, who dreams of being a nurse. “The houses can collapse anytime.” Coal consumption in India — the world’s most populous nation and fifth-biggest economy — has doubled in the last decade, powering nearly 70 percent of the electricity grid.

Half of India’s greenhouse gas emissions come from burning coal, and only China burns more. The fires, raging in pockets across opencast mines spread over nearly 300 square kilometres (116 square miles), have burned millions of tonnes of CO2-belching coal, experts say.

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