In pictures: India coal fires

Underground fires have been burning in the small dusty coal town of Jharia in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand for more than 80 years now. All efforts to put out the fires have been in vain. Photos: ©Arindam Mukherjee: BBC

Jharia coal fires
In places like Laltenganj, the fires are now burning overground.
Jharia coal firesIn the Kujama slum, authorities have put up a notice asking the slum-dwellers to evacuate the area as the coal mine fire threatens the village and its residents. But people here are too poor to move from their crumbling shelters, and continue to live in the area, risking their lives.
Jharia coal firesA man walks through the rubble of a house at Indra chowk, located on the border of Jharia town. The residents say that fire has spread to their homes in the last 10 years.
Jharia coal firesMany miners and their family members negotiate the burning pits to find chunks of coal they can sell in the illegal market to make some money on the side. Here, a young girl carries a basket of coal taken from the opencast pit.
Jharia coal firesFire-induced landslides have killed at least five people in the last five years.
Jharia coal firesDays in Jharia are hot and smelly and bring drafts of nauseating air from the burning pits and nearby coal mines.
Jharia coal firesAlthough the area is not fit for human habitation, many poor people who work in the coal mines live here. Here, financial worries take precedence over concerns for safety.
Jharia coal firesHere, a young girl makes her way through the poisonous gases and fumes originating from the burning coal beneath the surface. The temperature here is so high and the air quality so poor that people have developed many health complications.
Jharia coal firesAfter years of extensive coverage in the media of the appalling conditions in the area, the authorities have announced a rehabilitation project.
Jharia coal fires
A resident of Kujama slum, 75-year-old Sarala Devi is an asthma patient. More than 60% of the population in the region is sick. Dangerous pollutants from the gases, fumes and coal dust are devastating human lives here.
Jharia coal firesThe fire and the poisonous smoke are affecting the lives of people living in and around the town. In the affected areas, most trees have been burnt into dry stubs and there is little vegetation left.

Author: Shahidul Alam

Time Magazine Person of the Year 2018. A photographer, writer, curator and activist, Shahidul Alam obtained a PhD in chemistry before switching to photography. His seminal work “The Struggle for Democracy” contributed to the removal of General Ershad. Former president of the Bangladesh Photographic Society, Alam set up the Drik agency, Chobi Mela festival and Pathshala, South Asian Media Institute, considered one of the finest schools of photography in the world. Shown in MOMA New York, Centre Georges Pompidou, Royal Albert Hall and Tate Modern, Alam has been guest curator of Whitechapel Gallery, Winterthur Gallery and Musee de Quai Branly. His awards include Mother Jones, Shilpakala Award and Lifetime Achievement Award at the Dali International Festival of Photography. Speaker at Harvard, Stanford, UCLA, Oxford and Cambridge universities, TEDx, POPTech and National Geographic, Alam chaired the international jury of the prestigious World Press Photo contest. Honorary Fellow of Royal Photographic Society, Alam is visiting professor of Sunderland University in UK and advisory board member of National Geographic Society. John Morris, the former picture editor of Life Magazine describes his book “My journey as a witness”, (listed in “Best Photo Books of 2011” by American Photo), as “The most important book ever written by a photographer.” His recent book “The Tide Will Turn” published by Steidl in 2020, is listed in New York Time’s ‘Best Art Books of 2020’. Alam received the “International Press Freedom Award” for 2020 from ‘The Committee to Protect Journalists’.

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