Deadly fossil fuels in India: Photo essay | coal

Beauty Davey, 34, an illegal coal miner, lost her husband when he was 25 in an accident while extracting coal from an abandoned tunnel. Devi has two sons: Vishal Kumar, 13, and Naman Kumar, 11.

Beauty Davy

You wake up early in the morning, before sunrise, and head toward the deserted tunnel of an inactive coal mine. It takes about two hours to walk from her home.

She spends the whole day mining coal. The mines are very dangerous because underground fires are common in the area. The tunnels are filled with toxic gases, making them unfit to breathe. It has to walk about 300 feet into the tunnel to function.

Beauty Davy Charcoal Extraction

After reaching the tunnel, Davy began extracting coal from the shelf using her pickaxe. After that, she and her two sons fill buckets with coal and go home by evening. They carry lite and fork (a type of stuffed bread and mashed potatoes) for lunch.

Naman, the youngest son of Devi, loves to study and is in the sixth grade. Sometimes he doesn’t go to the mine and instead goes to school. But when his family needs him, he is forced to drop out of school and go to the mine with his mother and older brother.

Beauty and her family standing over the fire

After returning home, Davy and her sons burn coals to make Coke in front of their house and sell it to local tea shops and restaurants. They earn nearly $3 a day. Their home spends large portions of the day drenched in smoke.

Preparing the beauty coke
Count money beauty

The tunnels are the remains of abandoned exposed mines. When mining companies no longer consider it viable, they abandon it. Local villagers then create illegal tunnels in the mine to extract the remaining coal. Sometimes the surfaces of the tunnels collapse due to heavy rainfall. Underground fires also killed many people.

Vishal Kumar comes out of the tunnel with a bag of coal

  • Vishal Kumar, 13, Jamal’s eldest son, carries a bucket full of coal from an abandoned coal tunnel. The ceiling of the tunnel is so low that you have to bend over to get in and out.

A facial with a black face
Vishal Kumar Drinking Water
Vishal in bed

Open coal mines pose a threat to the environment. Toxic air pollutants emitted from mines contribute significantly to global warming. in India80% of the country’s electricity comes from coal – the third country in terms of carbon emissions.

Jhariya coal mine helps boost India’s economy and also serves as an earning opportunity for local villagers, but what they earn hardly keeps them alive. The locals are so poor that they often consider selling their children to mining gangs or sending them to work as laborers for additional income.

Children here regularly suffer from malnutrition, skin diseases and other conditions. Constant exposure to pollution from living near mines made their skin pale and their eyes yellow.

Fog over muddy terrain

Mine itself is dangerous. There are toxic gases such as carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide. Gases cause skin and lung diseases such as tuberculosis and other respiratory problems.

Underground fires make the situation even more dangerous. Accidental deaths are common. Fires regularly create sink holes, causing homes and water pipes to collapse, and workers are often trapped or killed in mines. The constantly raging underground fires forced local residents to leave their homes and move.

glowing earth
The miner brushes his teeth

Jharia is a beehive for illegal mining activity. Villagers, including children, have no other job options than working in the mines for less than $2 a day. They barely manage two meals a day, and they can’t afford to send their kids to school. Their children are being recruited into warring gangs. Mining mafias make their lives hell.

beauty sitting

The Joanne Wakelin Scholarship Offers £2,000 to produce a photo essay on a social documentary issue abroad. The scholarship was established in 2005 in memory of the distinguished documentary photographer and Honorary Fellow of the Society, Joanne Wakelin.

The scholarship funds new projects only. We do not support ongoing projects, nor do we support grant projects that require travel to or within war zones.

Information on how to apply for the 2023 scholarship will be available on the Royal Photographic Society and Guardian websites early next spring.

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