The Coal Curse of Chandauli

From daily wage workers, local residents and commuters, the coal mandi in Chandauli, Uttar Pradesh is adversely affecting the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. Worst affected are the labourers at the market who are employed to load and unload the coal from the never ending trail of trucks. Tuberculosis cases are rampant. In its June 2022 report, the state pollution control board has recommended relocation of the mandi, but there is no deadline in sight. A ground report.

Pavan Kumar MauryaPavan Kumar Maurya   30 Jan 2023 7:52 AM GMT

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The Coal Curse of Chandauli

The health of not just the labourers who work at the mandi, but also those who live in the vicinity is severely compromised. 

Chandauli, Uttar Pradesh

Even his spit is black in colour with all that coal dust he breathes in, and fevers and coughs are his constant companions, complained Deepak Prajapati. “I am 45 years old but I look 60,” the daily wage labourer who works at the wholesale coal market in Chandasi area in Chandauli district, Uttar Pradesh, told Gaon Connection.

Prajapati is just one of an estimated 10,000 labourers at the Chandauli coal mandi said to be one of Asia’s biggest coal markets. He has been working here as a labourer since 2002 and lives in Dawa Baburi village, about 20 kilometres away from his workplace.

The mandi is a vital fixture that falls on the key coal supply route from the coal-rich states such as Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. Every day, coal worth crores is handled at the mandi and hundreds of trucks carry the black gold to and fro causing acute air pollution.

“For a radius of 20 kilometres from the mandi, all you can see is a giant cloud of coal dust hovering over the area,” Chandrabhushan Mishra, the trustee of Public Interest Thinkers Association, a Chandauli-based non-profit, told Gaon Connection. The villages of Dulhipur, Dandi, Satpokhri, Mahbalpur, Bisodi, Baghi, Sitapur, Harikeshpur Karbat, and Chandhasi are the worst affected, he added.

“The road which leads to the mandi always has trucks on it, as they bring and carry away coal. The common people, students, and drivers of public transport also use this same road to go about their business. Although daily wage labourers are the most vulnerable, others are also complaining about respiratory ailments,” Mishra said.

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According to Dharmraj Yadav, the president of the wholesale market, there are more than 600 traders operating in the mandi and as many as 1,500 trucks supply coal on a daily basis.

“A single truck carries about 30 tonnes to 40 tonnes of coal. Every month, coal worth Rs 60 crore [Rs 600 millions] is traded at the mandi. Labourers work almost 10 hours a day unloading coals from the trucks. The traders pay Rs 1,200 to 1,500 to unload each truck and the labourers share that amongst themselves. A labourer gets almost Rs 300-Rs 400 in a single day,” Yadav told Gaon Connection.

The president of the mandi admitted that things were far from perfect and that the situation was even worse in the rains when the coal dust mixed with water and rendered the ground slippery and more difficult for the labourers. “However, there is no pressure on the labourers from our end. The labour is abundant and they work willingly,” he added.

Unsafe working conditions

But, it is obvious from the mandi that the labourers had no safety gear such as face masks, gloves, helmets, or even shoes while they did the heavy duty work.

“If I fall sick or get injured while working, nobody will care. This black hell will continue to flourish. The fine choora [fine particles] of coal fly around when we unload coal. They enter our nose, eyes, ears and mouth. But, I have no place to escape as I have to feed my family,” Shyamu, a labourer who has been working at the mandi for the last 15 years, told Gaon Connection.

His fellow worker, Jay Prakash, said that workers like him earn a maximum of Rs 6,000 per month.

“The neta [political leaders] and sarkaar [government] are well aware of these issues. They are just not interested in saving the lives of poor people. We demand that the pollution at the mandi be reduced so that we can at least safeguard our health,” he told Gaon Connection.

There are more than 600 traders operating in the mandi and as many as 1,500 trucks supply coal on a daily basis.

Also Read: A village stuck between coal mines and a mountain of mud

Mishra of Public Interest Thinkers Association said that despite the mandi’s importance, little had been done to manage the pollution it generates. The health of not just the labourers who work at the mandi, but also those who live in the vicinity is severely compromised, he complained.

“There are talks about taking punitive measures to control the pollution but the plans have remained only on paper. All the work to come up with a long term solution has remained in the files. There has been zero change on the ground for decades now.” he added.

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Tuberculosis a rising concern

According to Rajesh Kumar, the district tuberculosis officer in Chandauli, Mughalsarai where most of the workers of the mandi live, has the highest caseload of tuberculosis (TB). “It is a densely populated area dominated by the poorest sections of the society. In 2022, a total of 742 patients were identified of which 390 are being treated,” he informed Gaon Connection

“Roughly, every 10th patient of tuberculosis in Mughalsarai fails to recover and he or she dies. The recovery rate is almost 90 per cent and the fatality rate is six per cent to eight per cent,” the district tuberculosis officer said.

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“The TB patients who are registered with the government are provided financial aid of Rs 500 per month and efforts are being made to ensure mental health support, nutrition and their adoption by NGOs,” he added.

Ramesh Chandra Yadav is the incharge of the government’s tuberculosis help desk and designated microscopy centre at the District Women’s Hospital in Mughalsarai. According to him, more than 350 patients from the nearby villages visit the centre for diagnosis in month.

“This TB diagnostic centre has been set up by the government for a population of 300,000 residents of Mughalsarai. On an average 50-52 patients are treated for TB in a month. We also launch awareness camps for the coal workers of the Chandasi coal mandi regularly,” Yadav said.

“The patients are not only from the labourer community but also includes women, children and the elderly in the town. But, those in the age group of 45-50 dominate the caseload. If they reach us in time, we can treat them, but many leave it till too late, and some of them die,” he added.

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Local residents demand relocation of mandi

Many of the residents of Chandasi feel relocating the mandi is the only solution to the problem.

“I can’t think of my future here. Almost everybody in my village has a permanent cough and I will join them soon,” Radhe Shyam, a 20-year-old resident of Chandasi, told Gaon Connection.

It is not just the pollution, but the constant flow of heavy vehicles on the road poses a hazard too, said Imrana, who is in college.

“The coal dust is so much that it reduces visibility. The heavy trucks are there all day. It doesn’t feel safe to go to college. I help my elder brother in his grocery shop and I have to wipe the counter at least four times a day to keep it clean. Also, the computers, printers and other electronic appliances get damaged due to the dust,” the 17-year-old told Gaon Connection.

Also Read: "Our fields are barren. People are falling sick"

The Samajwadi Party is demanding the relocation of the mandi. “We don’t want the labourers' livelihoods to be affected but it is the government's responsibility to provide safe working conditions. The mandi needs to be relocated at the earliest,” Gargi Singh Patel, the district's woman-in-charge of the Samajwadi Party, told Gaon Connection . According to her, there are nearly 60,000 rural residents in Chandauli who are reeling from the pollution caused by the mandi.

“The roads are bad too and the legislator from Chandasi had promised the construction of an overbridge for the public during the 2017 elections, but that has not been done so far,” Patel said.

The area around the mandi was recently surveyed and a detailed report has been tabled, said SC Shukla, the regional officer of the Uttar Pradesh State Pollution Control Board.

“We sent the report to the district magistrate of Chandauli as well as the sub-divisional magistrate of Mughalsarai on June 23, 2022. We have suggested in the report that the mandi has to be relocated for the pollution levels to be brought under control in the area. The district administration will act on it,” Shukla told Gaon Connection.

Coal Coal mandi #airpollution 

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