Jharia’s lost ground!

Coal seams in Jharia are burning and limiting habitable areas due to frequent subsidence and lack of resettlement and rehabilitation further pushes communities to the brink. Belgarhia resettlement colony, the first to accomodate 1,000+ families is not an example people tell with a pride, it is riddled with problems. More and more people frequent to Jharia hospital every week complaining of asthma and TB, says a news report. When we interacted with several medical practitioners in coal belts of Asansol and Angul during the past few months, respiratory diseases topped the diseases known across these coal belts. It points to requirement of more robust and regular screening of communities in such polluted environments for proper diagnosis and treatment. R&R seems too far to be realised, one in terms of quantum and the other in qualitative assessment of socio-economic and cultural requirements but it has to be fast tracked while equal importance to community health cannot be wished away!
Read related news on the aspects below;

http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/lethal-gases-from-jharias-coalfields-fire-continue-to-wreck-havoc-a-century-later/articleshow/52705763.cms

 

http://www.tehelka.com/2016/05/jharias-infinite-inferno/

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The Resource Corridor?

Maps showing the coal regions of India with overlaid forests in the Raniganj and Jharia Coalfields. If one looks at the maps, it will be clear why it is a resource corridor. But this resource extraction and illegal, unscientific mining in the past has become a bane for communities from past several decades and continues…Click the link below for viewing

The Resource Corridor

Issues of Resource Corridor and Present Context

The forests were lost to coal mining long ago, remaining forest resources got damaged due to fire. The present socio-economic situation is still catching up with norms of service, available institutions for delivery are thus to seen in context of constitutional rights and duties, directive principles and how these institutions will enable sustainable development taking lessons from MDGs and now SDGs.

Click the link to know more Issues and Context

MEMOIRS FROM THE LAND OF COAL MINING

Health being the indispensable factor of human life and living significantly contributes in the process of progressive human society, civilization and history worldwide. Coal mining contributes greatly towards the economic development of the nation, although it also has a great impact upon human health. It also has an impact on the socio-cultural aspect of the workers and people residing in and around the coal mining areas.

RANIGANJ COALFIELDS: OLD AND STILL NOT THE THING OF PAST

It is well known facts that human society and natural environment interact together and plays an important role to maintain the social health[1]. Raniganj coal mines is a 33.9 million ton-per-annum (MTPA) system of coal mines in the Raniganj coalfield in Barddhaman district of West Bengal, India. The Raniganj coalfield is located in the State of West Bengal, covering districts of Bardhaman, Birbhum, Bankura, and Purulia, and the Jharkhand district of Dhanbad, over an area of 754 square kilometer[2]. ECL operates a total of 98 mines on the Raniganj coalfield, of which 77 are underground and 21 open-cast.

Health & Environment: CIL is one of the largest profit-making companies having earned Rs 22879.54crores[3]. ECL’s annual turnover of about 12076.17crores invests only 12.83 crores on its CSR welfare expenses (2013-14) and ‘zero’ crores in 2012-2013. There is a close relationship between poverty and poor health. The affected communities are challenged with problems of environment and lack of basic amenities. The poorest people in every society usually experience much higher levels of mortality. The low capabilities of the poor individuals (low nutritional status, lack of awareness, marginal living and hazardous working conditions), coupled with poor access to health services and lack of money compels them to face more health related problems.

The waste generated changes the chemical and biological factors of both soil and water directly affecting the daily lifestyle and health. Mining of coal causes massive damage of biological community. Microorganism in soil are critical for the maintenance of soil function in both natural and managed agricultural soils because of their involvement in such key processes as soil structure formation, decomposition of organic matter, toxin removal, and the cycling of carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulphur. Different areas of Raniganj coalfield showed different picture of bacterial population with low nitrogen, potassium, organic carbon and medium phosphorus content[4].

Such condition can be seen as a direct affect to low yield of crop in the adjacent areas. Places around Sarisathali Open cast mines once used to be very productive and was capable of sustaining the resident villagers. But off late the land has lost its capacity of production and can be cultivated only once a year. This directly affected the standards of living of the villagers and indirectly affected the standard health parameters.

ISSUES WITH AIR POLLUTION: When it comes to coal mining, dust is the major source of pollution as there are no chemicals involved in the operation. The total particulate matter includes dust size from zero microns to 100 microns for different mining activity like drill-ing, blasting, loading, transportation and other Over Burdens. This leads to various pulmo-nary disorders in the local/affected communities apart from skin diseases. The burning of coal releases harmful substances such as Sulpher dioxide, nitrogen oxide, carbon dioxide, as well as particulates of dust and ash. Dangerous levels of air and water pollution have been recorded in coal burning areas resulting into bad health effects. Even though Raniganj Coal Fields are of best non-coking coal quality in India with only 20% of fly ash, the problem of air pollution still persists. The problem increases due to increase in the number of vehi-cles and coal mines all over the area. COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), Bronchrogenic Carcinoma, and skin cancer are occurring more in the recent past.

Large number of children suffers from various types of Acute Respiratory Infection (ARI) including pneumonia, which is also one of the important causes of death of children. Nearly 19.5 cases of ARI were registered in government health facilities of the state during the year 2010 and there were 439 deaths[5].

“A personal survey was conducted with locals and resident doctors of the mining areas. It was found that people suffering from gastrointestinal diseases were high due to water pollution and unhygienic conditions. People suffered from respiratory diseases as a result of air pollution. It was observed that due to nutritional deficiencies anemia, skin diseases were commonly found among the population engaged in mining and living in and around mining areas.”

ISSUES WITH WATER POLLUTION: The mine water of the Raniganj coalfields is mildly acidic to alkaline. Na-HCO3 is the dominant hydro-chemical which makes it unfit for drinking or irrigation purpose and needs to be treated before discharge[6].Lack of closed toilets and clean water When discharged untreated, these causes contamination of ground water. Such condition leads to various health issues in both animals and humans. Major water borne diseases in the area are Acute Diarrheal Disease including Cholera, other Diarrhea, Dysentery, Fever and Viral Hepatitis (A & E). Incidence of such diseases is much higher for the poorer section of the people living in insanitary environment with poor access to safe water and sanitation facilities

“According to a senior doctor who has worked with various government bodies and now associated with the coal subsidiary, said that- Arthritis, Hypertension, Liver cirrhosis and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) are predominant in the area throughout the year. About 20% of the cases are of COPD and a child below 14 years suffers from severe asthma. He even mentioned cases of Noise Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) due to noise pollution in the area.”

Improving the Community Process and Augmenting Health Related Awareness

There are several constraints faced by the poor and people living in remote rural areas in receiving public health services, which are normally provided free of cost. Lack of awareness and information related to service offered, problem of access including cost of accessing the services and out of pocket expenditure due to inadequate provision or inefficiency in the system as well as health seeking behavior etc are the important causes behind failure of services reaching the poor and those living in remote areas. The Panchayats may strengthen the process of reaching services to the community by raising awareness of the people, proper deployment of the ASHA and involving SHGs and other community level organizations as well as in mobilizing people to actual come forward and access various services.

Ideas like Finnish Baby Boxes[7] may prove helpful to prevent infection during or after delivery. The idea is mainly to provide low-cost life saving solutions to new mothers-specially targeted to cause of preventable infant and mother mortality. It has been credited with helping Finland achieve one of the world’s lowest infant mortality rates. Such ideas can work wonders in the mining areas where the infant death rates are high due to poverty.

Awareness among society and provision of better medical infrastructure are two must needed thing at this point of time.

[1] Adhikari R.N., A. Raizada and M.S.Rama Mohan Rao. Empirical model for assessment of soil erosion and mechanical measures in steep slope mine spoil areas, Van Vigyan, 36(2-4), 54-65 (1998)
[2]Eastern Coalfields Limited website

[3] Sustainability  Report- CIL, 2013-14

[4] Majumder P. and Palit D. Microbial Diversity of Soil in Some Coal Mine Generated Wasteland of Raniganj Coalfield, West Bengal, India, Pg- 637 (2016)

[5] Investment and Industrial Policy Report of West Bengal

[6] Mahato M.K. Quality Assessment of Mine Water in the Raniganj Coalfield Area, India, Mine Water Environ (2010) 29:248–262

[7]The starter kit of clothes, sheets and other necessary items to the expectant mothers. The box may include clean birth kit which helps to prevent infection during or soon after delivery. This helps in reducing infant mortality rate.

Rural-Urban Bardhaman: Few Reflections

Employment: The Census of India 2011 registered 17.30 lakh households in District Barddhaman (10.71 Lakh rural and 6.59 lakh urban households). In the same year i.e. 2011-12, the number of households registered under MGNREGA was 9.85 lakh and were issued job cards. Out of these households, 3.78 lakh demanded employment meaning 44% job card holders provided employment but only 3.2% provided with 100 days employment (3500 households), the figures for preceding periods i.e. 2009-10 and 2010-11 were 17,219 and 29,531 respectively. The block wise average wage per household was Rs. 2851 (Jamuria), Rs. 3988 (Bardhaman-I) and Rs. 4474 (Katwa-II) and corresponding average wage per person days was Rs. 128, Rs. 130 and Rs. 129 respectively for the three blocks mentioned above. There is high demand for employment as 9.85 lakh households demanded work out of the total 10.71 lakh rural households whereas only 44% could get some sort of job.

This suggests rethinking and opening up of new micro avenues of job creation to counter high demands of employment but could this be met in conventional way? Another question is to asked is whether providing 100 days employment to a handful of households will bring people out of the poverty net.

Poverty & Health:

According to MDG-India Country Report 2015

Poverty Head Count Ratio for West Bengal
1990 est 1993-94 2004-05 2011-12 Likely Achievement in 2015 Target 2015
40.92 39.40 34.30 19.98 19.37 20.46

According to District Development Report for Bardhaman, 2005

Rural Poverty in Bardhaman District, 2005
Total no. of households No. of households below poverty line Rural poverty (%) Rank in state
Bardhaman 1 40475 13641 33.70 18
Bardhaman 2 33244 7208 21.68 4
Urban Poverty in Bardhaman District, 2005
Total no. of households No. of households below poverty line Urban poverty (%) Rank in state
Bardhaman 54288 9753 17.97 1

The tables very clearly signifies the decrease in Poverty Head Count Ratio but what needs to be looked at is the criteria on which these data have been collected. As it’s stated earlier that these MDG goals are not separable, we need to verify the sources. Though it can be concluded that poverty is more or less evenly distributed over both the blocks and municipalities in the district Bardhaman, and incidence of urban poverty is much lower than that of rural poverty.

According to Dr. Debroy these indicators must be looked at carefully since many were interconnected. “Suppose no infant dies, then you have many malnourished children that have survived. What does that do to the ‘underweight children’ parameter? One should not make quick conclusions on the basis of such parameters”.

Dilemma of Health and Ensuring Nutrition – A look in the past!

Dilemma of Health and Ensuring Nutrition – A look in the past!

The phasing out of MDGs with SDGs ushers in new deadline of hope i.e. 2030. But whether the experience of MDGs and state delivery of services reflect some scope of improvement for the adopted 17 goals i.e. Sustainable Development Goals. Relying on the report of the supreme audit institution in India i.e. Comptroller and Auditor General of India which puts a glaring picture of malnourishment and low birth weight noticed during the audit from 2007-08 to 2010-11. It hopefully should be a primary focus to remove anomalies in already stressed region.

The state average of low birth weight over 4 years hovered around 15-19% whereas Bardhaman (Raniganj Coalfield fame) closely followed the state average and registered low birth weight percentage of 15-18%. Statistically there is improvement in percentage points from 2007-08 to 2010-11 but the absolute numbers keep increasing (relative to more new borns weighed). The increase in price of foodgrains should not become a deterrent to ensure adequate nutritional intake for the children and pregnant mothers. It is an irony that the economy dependent on natural resources based industry (almost 30-35% of District Domestic Product of Bardhaman contributed by mining and industry) has had such instance which came to the notice during CAG audit.

It must be noticed that Bardhaman has the highest number of children weighed (new borns) and the underweight children too are the highest in Barddhaman among other districts covered by the audit (Paschim Medinipur, Jalpaiguri, South 24 Parganas and Malda). The CAG compared calorific norms for supplementary nutrition and actual calories provided – it noticed that there was deviation of 20% in calorie provision for children aged 6 months to 6 years; 38% shortfall in calorie provision for severly malnourished children and 12% shortfall in calorie delivery for pregnant women and lactating mothers.

Find below stark observations by CAG;

Thus, non-supply of supplementary nutrition for stipulated number of days coupled with reduction in quantum of food stuff led to reduction in stipulated level of nutritional value. The purpose of bringing about improvement in the nutritional and health status of children and pregnant women was compromised to that extent. The same is vindicated by the scenario of malnutrition among the targeted groups:

  • As of March 2012, out of 5674883 children weighed, 1450454 (26 per cent) were below normal weight, while 102847 children (two per cent) were malnourished.
  • Of 1906787 pregnant women registered during 2010-11, 569046 (30 per cent) were anaemic (Haemoglobin<1113).
  • Further, during the period 2007-11, birth weight of 15 to 19 per cent new born babies in the state was less than 2.5 kg. In respect of test-checked districts, percentage of such babies varied between six and 25 per cent.

Many programmes under different heads also represent one or the other SDGs, can there be a measurable index to improve upon from the past.