A new documentary captures the stark reality of underpaid and generally overworked coal mine workers

Away from the glare of ‘Coalgate’ and charges flying thick and fast on allegations of scams in allocation of coal blocks, miners continue to toil in coal mines, fighting for their daily survival against all odds and tough working conditions.

The plight of coal miners in Raniganj near Asansol in West Bengal has been portrayed graphically in a 30-minute documentary, produced by Colliery Mazdoor Sabha of India and directed by the husband-wife duo of Shauvik Basu and Dr. Debjani Halder.

The documentary, The Dark, is shot in Raniganj and the camera pans into tiny, crammed rooms of the coal miners, focusing on their plight as they narrate the hardships which their families face every day to rustle up two square meals and also look after their children.

The documentary reveals the stark reality of miners descending into the mines without proper shoes and safety kits to extract coal. Most of those interviewed in the film talk about the difficult existence in a daily wage of Rs. 120 to Rs. 130 per shift that lasts for 10 to 11 hours. The Raniganj coal mines, under the management of Eastern Coalfield Limited, are known for the best quality coal.   

Several coal miners also expressed insecurity and uncertainty as they continue to remain on contract. ECL officials, interviewed in the documentary, claimed that they had assured social benefits like medi-claim, life insurance, boots, caps and lights to contractual workers.

The reality captured by the camera was stark and quite different from the claims. Crumbling houses in dire need of repairs without provision of lights, windows, toilets and safe drinking water were captured by the camera.

The documentary highlighted adverse effects of open cast mining. It quoted geophysicist Tapas Kumar Ghatak of IIT, Kharagpur who said the coal excavates from the Raniganj mine area could bring about land slides and erosion. Environmental scientist Dr. Ranen Sen argued that open cast mining operations could disturb the environment in several ways, including removal of mass, change of landscape, displacement of human beings, influx of outside labour and change in air, water and soil quality of the area.