Two days back a group of thirty women from Majri village of Bhadrawati taluka braved the rains to travel to the District Collector’s office. They handed over a memorandum against the overburden dumps of the western coalfields limited. They demanded that either the dumps should be removed or the village should be rehabilitated.
The dumps visible from the village
The agricultural fields of Majri village are located alongside a river called Shirna. The overburden dumps of Majri opencast coal mines operated by the Western Coalfields Ltd. can be seen looming on the horizon even from the village. These dumps are located along side the Shirna on the opposite bank. From a distance these dumps look like a range of hills, several kilometers long.
The Shirna river with the dumps visible on the right side
According to the villagers, the dumps have obstructed the flow of the Shirna which was swelled in the monsoons. The river over flooded its banks, submerged the agricultural fields and entered the village Majri. Villagers who were evacuated had to spend four days on the platform of the Majri railway station.
A visit to the village today showed that the people are still in shock and desperately trying retrieve their belongings. Several houses are fully or partially destroyed. There is a stench of rot in the whole village. Many people are suffering from headaches, stomach ailments and fever. The floors of most houses are muddy and damp. Apart from the farmers who have suffered great losses, the labourers too are in dire straits. The entire Kharif season sustains agricultural labourers who are engaged in the local farms. Today they are without work and bear a look of utter hopelessness.
Coal mines overburden dump
Kalyani Sushant Landge a young lady entrepreneur took us to her plant where she produces fly ash bricks. The plant was set up this year. The dumps are visible behind the plant and the river which flows nearby. She described how the river entered the fields and then her plant destroying her machinery and materials.
Praful Tikhat, one of the several who lost their homes
Although political leaders and some social workers have distributed ration kits containing a few kilos of rice, wheat and oil the women said this is not enough. They need work and they need compensation for their losses. One woman Vandana Satpute said that she has only one saree left. Most importantly villagers insisted that something should be done about the dumps otherwise the village would remain vulnerable to floods even in the future.
When contacted the General Manger, Majri Area Vishnu Gupta denied that the dumps had exacerbated the floods. “There was excessive water in Shirna because of the rainfall in the upstream regions because of which the gates of both the Upper Wardha and the Lower Wardha dams were opened. This led to increase in water levels in the downstream areas,” he said. When asked about the height of the dumps he said that the technical study for overburden dumping had been carried out by IIT Kharagpur and also approved by the Chief General Manager Safety. He said that the sanctioned height of the dumps is up to 90 meters whereas as of date the height is 45 meters.
Given that excessive monsoons cannot be ruled out in the future because of climate change, what will be the situation when the overburden dumps of the coal mines reach their sanctioned height of 90 meters? The villagers are asking about what will happen tomorrow; unfortunately the government has no answers today.
The women of Majri in Collector office
– Paromita Goswami