Unreported World - India: Children of the Inferno (2007)
Unreported World reveals a vision of hell in North East India, where the earth is literally on fire as vast subterranean coal fires burn out of control beneath towns and villages, children mine coal day in day out, and half a million people are being moved out of their ancestral villages to make way for the coal mines fuelling India's growth. Reporter Aidan Hartley and director Edward Watts begin their journey in the Jharia coalfields in Jharkand state. The air is filled with smoke and poisonous gas as fires smoulder in the ground all around them. The flames are from underground coal seams which are spontaneously combusting over an area of several hundred square kilometres.
Huge open cast and underground mines produce hundreds of millions of coal to feed the electricity and steel industries. But these mines are also threatening the health and homes of millions as the fires they've caused encroach on towns and villages. The team visits Bokapardi village, where hundreds of families live above the fire. The land beneath their feet is hot and, everywhere they look,smoke and sulphurous gases escape from thousands of fissures and cracks. Locals tell Hartley that, despite these terrible conditions, they are so poor they have no choice but to stay in the village. The only way to make a living is by scavenging coal, and the team films hundreds of people, including young children. One young girl, Dolly, says she works every day of the year gathering coal. She tells Hartley that she makes less than a pound a day - and has to walk shoeless across sharp stones and hot coals to do it. Like the rest of her family, she's never been to school.
Other locals tell Hartley that this wasteland was once a place of forests, rivers and farms. But mining is destroying the environment, forcing farmers to become coal scavengers. The team finds entire families working together in precarious shafts they've dug by hand. A local doctor describes how villagers are now suffering from a collection of lung diseases caused by air pollution. One woman tells Hartley that her husband and a daughter were killed by respiratory illnesses. Now she is very sick, and her surviving daughter is suffering regular nosebleeds. The team moves on to the village of Hutchuktar. Locals tell Hartley that just two years ago everything was green. Now, everything is black, and cracks are opening up in homes as the fires advance beneath the village.
Hartley meets with the state-owned Bharat Coking Coal Limited (BCCL) company, which runs the mines, to discuss the situation with villages where locals are being asked to leave their ancestral lands. He discusses BCCL plans to move up to 500,000 people out of fire-affected areas to make way for new mines. Moving on again, the team travels to Belguria, a housing scheme funded by BCCL to accommodate people it wants to move. They are shown the one bedroom houses where families, often numbering up to 10, are expected to live. BCCL managing director T.K Lahiri tells the team that compensation is offered to anyone who qualifies for it under the company's guidelines. But in another town, Kasunda, the risks of staying are clear. A former resident tells Hartley that two years ago the ground beneath his home just collapsed and several houses were engulfed. He and his family survived, but his brother and six others of his family were all killed. What was once a thriving place with 500 houses, a school and a temple is now a ghost town.
Everywhere the team travels in Jharia the fires are burning. The effect India's reliance on coal could have on climate change in the future is causing global concern. But, here on the ground, it's clear that for locals, a nightmarish existence is already a reality.