Indian Village Vanishing Beneath the Earth
Coal fires slowly eating away at Jharia
By Liam Carnahan,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 31, 2012 5:50 PM CDT
In this photo taken Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2011, a man and child stay warm next to small piles of burning coal illegally scavenged near an open-cast mine in the Jharia district.   (AP Photo/Kevin Frayer)

(Newser) – Situated atop coal fields that have been burning for decades, sagging houses in India's Jharia village are swallowed whole by the earth, sometimes along with their residents, the Los Angeles Times reports. There's no formal count on how many people have succumbed to the dangerous flames or the myriad health problems that come along with them, but the remaining villagers live in constant fear of being swallowed up. They have few options, thanks to corruption and bureaucracy that make relocation a bleak, empty prospect. One Indian documentary maker calls it "a criminal waste of nonrenewable resources, crony capitalism at its worst."

The 180 or so families living in the Bokapahadi neighborhood, one of the most desperate parts of Jharia, have been offered relocation packages by the government. But their opportunity to move to nearby Belgharia, dubbed the "City of Hope," isn't as appealing as it may seem. More ramshackle houses await them there, hours away from any job paying a livable wage. The $17,000 they would get to relocate dwindles severely as it passes through a line of bureaucrats eager to take a cut for themselves. On top of that, the valuable coal slowly burning up has gotten a lot of attention from corrupt politicians, coal mine strippers, and even a "coal mafia," activists say. Click to read a less depressing story about fuel in India.