People residing in the outskirts of Dhanbad in the vicinity of a coal mine are being exposed to dangerous gases and smoke from fires in the underground coal pits. The residents compared it to living in a gas chamber and complained of consistent coughs, headaches and serious health conditions such as tuberculosis, asthma and other respiratory diseases caused because of inhaling 'killer gas' from underground fires in the coal mines.
The residents claim that they are forced to live there and breathe toxic air as they do not have an option to move and are highly exposed to toxic gases like carbon monoxide (CO). Experts say that the situation is so worse that it can be declared as a health emergency.
"We face a lot of health issues but nobody listens to our grievances. Our health gets affected, we are unable to sleep properly at night due to the foul smell of the gas. The scenario turns worse during the summer season. A few residents here are suffering from TB and other diseases. We are living in a precarious condition," said Anant Kumar, a villager.
As per the Central Institute of Mining and Fuel Research (CIMFR), the most harmful gas is CO, its byproducts, and carbon particles which cause harm to both the environment and human lives.
"We do not have a house to live, if we get our own place to live we will leave this place today itself. We are facing problems due to the smoke but who should we complain? Nobody listens to the issues of poor people. My son is suffering from TB," said another villager.
Speaking to a news agency, Ram Kishan another local resident said that the poisonous gas was "killing everyone" and that around 10 to 15 people had been diagnosed with Tuberculosis in the area. "Even children here are suffering from recurring health issues," he said.
"When we ask the authorities to provide us with a different place, they ask us to pay Rs 10,000 to Rs 15,000 for that," added Mahesh, another resident.
Dr JK Pandey, Chief Scientist of CSIR-CIMFR, who heads mine ventilation department stated that CO is the most toxic gas produced in a coal mine fire and is so harmful that if a person inhales the gas even for a minute, it can be fatal.
He explained that there are three causes of fire in the coal mine which are the presence of coal, oxygen, and the place to accumulate heat. Coal oxidation produces heat and when that heat does not get dissipated, it turns into fire.
The effects are evident in the Ghannudi village located near the Jharia coal mines, which has an alarming number of TB and asthma patients. Previously, asthma was very common in this village but now TB cases are also seen on the rise. Besides this, almost all the villagers suffer some sort of ailment due to heavily polluted air. They call these gases as 'Khooni Gas' (Killer Gas).
Other villages located close to Jharia coal mines have been equally affected. In 2004, a master plan was initiated constituting Jharia Rehabilitation and Development Authority, to rehabilitate these affected villages. However, the rehabilitation program is moving very gradually with over one lakh family still waiting to be rehabilitated.