Arid villages in the heart of Indian coal mines look for scarce water | Climate Change News

As a child, Fagu Besra (Fagu Besra) swims in the creek in his village of Pundi in eastern India, drinking “sweet and cool” water. Today, there is not one left.

As in many places in the coal-rich Ramgarh region of Jharkhand, the mining of polluting fossil fuels has drawn large amounts of water from once-abundant water sources.

“Even in summer, the water in our streams and canals never dries up. We have water in our wells, even though they are only 10 feet away. [3 metres] Very deep,” Besra, 50, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.

“We are now taking water from 700-800 feet of boreholes [213-244 metres] Deep,” the political activist added, who launched a campaign against the displacement of people due to mining operations.

Shimanshu Taka of the non-profit organization South Asia Dams, Rivers and People’s Network said that when coal mines are excavated, they fill up with groundwater, which must then be pumped out.

“In addition to pollution, this has also caused the depletion of groundwater in all mining areas,” he said.

Activists and researchers say that the loss of vegetation to make way for the mine also hinders groundwater recharge.

Like countless other villages in the heart of India’s coal mines, the residents of Pundi must dig deep, dig nearby rivers, or buy water transported by tankers to solve the growing water shortage.

As India promotes the expansion of coal mining, environmentalists worry that the problem will only worsen in the next few years.

In Bokapahari village in Jharkhand state in eastern India, a young woman stumbles while carrying a large basket of coal [File: Kevin Frayer/AP Photo]

India is already the world’s second-largest coal producer after China, but its mining volume is not enough to meet the electricity needs of its domestic industries.

This is why the government has increased coal production. The State Coal India Limited (CIL), the world’s largest coal mining company, has set a goal of producing 1 billion tons per year by 2024, which is higher than the current 800 million. Ton.

Its plan to promote coal production includes water supply to local people as part of efforts to protect the community and the environment.

But activists and researchers say these efforts are far from reducing the impact of mining on natural resources.

“Groundwater is India’s lifeline. The situation will continue to deteriorate. We need to protect the natural replenishment area… (but) we have not even started to do this,” Thakkar said.

The worst water crisis in history

In 2018, the government policy think tank NITI Aayog warned that nearly 600 million people are facing “high or even extreme water stress”, saying that India’s water crisis is the most serious in its history.

According to data submitted to Parliament last year, the groundwater level of more than 60% of the monitored wells has fallen.

Indian cities rely on oil tanker services during the hot summer months, but people living in mining centers face greater difficulties.

Ilyas Ansari, 35, from the village of Chepa Khurd, about 50 kilometers (31 miles) from Pundi, has been opposed to mining coal in his area for many years.

Villagers said that the ash-covered houses and the decline in harvests explained the damage caused by coal mining.

“We grow wheat and sugar cane. Now we don’t even have drinking water,” Ansari said.

This year, the villagers of Chepa Khurd dug two boreholes about 275 meters (902 feet) deep, and they shared the costs.

“We have a water tanker, but this is not drinking water. We can only use it to wash clothes and bathe,” Ansari said.

In Payali Bhatali, a coal mine center in the Chandrapur district of western Maharashtra, in central India, tap water comes from the nearby Erai River, the only source of water since the local well dried up about 20 years ago.

The government dug a well by the river and set up a water pump to transport it to the home through the pipeline of the water treatment plant.

Although the system can ensure the supply of clean water, it is far less reliable than previous wells. Unplanned power outages will interrupt pumping and limit supply.

At the same time, the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has made it difficult for the village to maintain factory operations.

“We have about 400,000 rupees for electricity [$5,360] Subhash Tukaram Gaurkar, a senior member of the Payali Bhatali Village Committee, said: “To be determined… and this power consumption is entirely used for the operation of the water treatment plant.”

He added that the village has asked the coal mining company Western Coalfields Limited to pay the debt.

“People are unemployed due to COVID-19 and have no money to buy food. How will we pay these bills?” Galka asked.

The Western Coalfield Company, which is one of the eight subsidiaries of CIL, could not be reached by telephone. But CIL officials told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that corporate social responsibility rules require companies to supply water.

Officials added that for this, it has established infrastructure and paid for its operation and maintenance costs within a fixed period, but the payment of electricity bills will need to be allocated separately based on the availability of funds.

Despite its shortcomings, pumping water from rivers is a more common method in coal mines.

In a dry lake near Chennai, India, women take water from a hole dug by residents [File: P Ravikumar/Reuters]

In the Ramgarh district of Jharkhand, officials are racing to provide 150,000 rural households with tap water by 2024, a goal set by the federal government in the rural India plan.

Rajesh Ranjan, an executive engineer in the Drinking Water and Sanitation Department of Jharkhand, said that by July, about 54,000 households were drawing water from the river.

But Suresh Chopane, chairman of the non-profit Green Planet Association in Chandrapur, warned that the river is dying.

“They are feeding industry and cities. This is unsustainable,” he said.

Mine water

CIL Community Development Executive Director B Sairam said that the company provides water collected from mines for community use, including for drinking and irrigation purposes.

It provides approximately 220 million cubic meters (58 billion gallons) of water from the mines to local communities every year, discharges it into nearby ponds, and builds supply pits to supplement groundwater.

“We invest more than 90 million rupees annually to supply water through tankers and pipelines [$1.2m],” Sairam said.

Mining experts said that once mining activities are over, the water shortage problem in coal-rich areas will usually be resolved.

“Water began to be stored in the (former) mining area, and the surrounding groundwater system was recharged again, and the mining area was filled with water,” said Jayant Bhattacharya, a professor of mining engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur.

Ranjan, a water officer in Jharkhand, said that water from two CIL mines is being processed to provide drinking water.

In Pundi, villager Besra said that a large oil tanker is being built to supply water to the closed mines of Central Coalfields Limited, another subsidiary of CIL.

“But the water scene of my childhood will not return. The water flowing from the canal is pure. This is no longer possible,” he added.

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