Thursday, July 29, 2010

A Gharghoda of mines and elephants

Corruption and pollution is something that we come across regularly in our life. Be it a small village or a large town and be it Mumbai or Gharghoda every place has come to terms with its share of the “ion” .

Situated in the industrial belt of Raigarh, which should be more appropriately called Jindalgarh, because of the huge infrastructural presence of Jindal company, Gharghoda is the oldest block of undivided MP and Chhattisgarh, coming into existence in 1928.

If Raigarh is famous for Jindal, Gharghoda is famous for two things, wild elephants and coal reserves.

My uncle who stays in the hills of Uttarakhad had not heard about Raigarh before, but when I told him that I will be staying in Gharghoda, he promptly quipped, “Ahh! Gharghoda, the land of the wild elephants.”

Wild elephants are always in news in this part of this world. Mostly for wrong reasons. Some fifteen days back, one women who had gone to collect Mahua seed was trampled by a tusker. Similarly, while travelling to Raigarh on bus, I had the wonderful experience of being stuck in a traffic jam as the highway was blocked by a herd of elephants who were taking a merry stroll on the road.

To look after the elephants we have the forest department people and they are doing a good job of protecting both the elephants and the civilians from each other. They are very prompt in giving compensation in case of causality due to elephants. So everything is fine on that front.

They are also active when it comes to stopping illegal tree felling, of which I have already given a graphical description in my previous post. So far so good.

But the problem arises when Coal comes into the picture.

Due to coal mining, both legal and illegal, forest cover is being vastly reduced, leading to a sharp increase in man-elephant conflict. The elephants are regularly entering villages and destroying crops and huts because their habitat is shrinking.

To combat this the forest department is investing huge amount of money in increasing the forest cover by planting saplings, but its effort is being bearing little result as more and more forest are being cut to pave way for mines.

Strange paradox, isn’t it. One government department in giving money to increase the forest cover, while the other is giving permission to cut those very trees.

Stand at the local Jai Stambh chowk of Gahrghoda and you will come across many huge trailers that are carrying coals and transporting them to the numerous coal power plant near Raigarh. And most of them are illegally mined. And as is very common in our country, this is happening right under the eyes of the law as not more than 200 meters from the Jai Stambh chowk is the local police station.

The coal is mined from the many a nearby areas and as they make their way to smoke emitting coal plants they have to pass through many a check posts. And rarely have I come across a trailer being stopped for overloading and carrying illegal coal. Most of the trailers are filled more than their capacity and the chance of these huge machines losing control and playing havoc on the street is as much as you and I getting drenched in a rain if we are not carrying an umbrella.

Once in a full moon, a trailer is caught and its details are promptly published in the local Hindi newspapers. Most of the trailers are owned by one of the many big companies like Jindal.

Also having their hands full in this trade are relatively small businessmen who have come from outside and have been wise enough to purchase lands from the local villagers at throw away price and setup their business.

And this is just the beginning. Gharghoda is still a ripe bud when it comes to coal mining. Many new plants are coming up and by 2015, this place will be at its full bloom. When the clean air and green tress will be replaced by carbon monoxide and steel chimneys and when the “Saagun made Belgadi” will give way to “Mahindra Scorpios” and when the local man who walks in cotton loins will purchase a Levis.

May not sound true today, but then Noida is no myth.

Equally true is the fact that these coal consuming factories have taken the necessary permission from the environmental authorities and other concerned authorities before coming up, so they are not to be blamed.

Again a paradox that infects our system.

We allow a factory to discharge toxic waste into the river and then we come up with an authority to clean that very river.

The emission and pollution controlling authority says that they see to it that every thing is done under supervision and Regulation. Sounds just like a holocaust, where they killed selectively, under supervision and in a regulated manner.

I may look like that I from the old age, a Swadeshi, an Opposer of industrialization. Believe me I am not, but what I say here is what is I see here.

The rapid industrialization has brought lakhs of rupees for the local tribes which they have received after selling their land to coal companies. And they simply do not know what to do with it. And some of them lament that times are changing as they feel insecure when they see their neighbour living a life that is more lavish then what they are accustomed to. They don’t know how to face this disparity.

The social fabric is being rewoven in this part of the world as money is pulling someone up and pushing many of them down.

I though draw solace from the fact that I won’t be staying her for long. I will leave way before any of these rivers and trees and green leaves this place, affectionately called GG. And though I may come back , they will not.

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