Death by inaction

Book>>Death by inaction

By Pratap Pandey
Published: Tuesday 31 March 2009

Today, Jharia township--not only the slums where the Santhal mineworkers stay, but also the new, glitzy malls that bespeak of plenty of disposable capital--stares at imminent extinction; it is preparing to implode into a fiery maw.

How is it allowed to happen? Absolute pillage then, absolute corruption now. When an underground seam is mined, the hole created must be filled with sand, so that methane gas doesn't accumulate. But the gas is still rampant, and one understands why by the end of Part 4.

Painstakingly, in a deliberative style created to make byte-addicts mash their teeth, Hot as Hell unpeels the layers. There is the parastatal bccl, whose chief insists all is hunky-dory, even though accidents, and so-called 'illegal mining, are legion. There is the equally omnipresent mafia B P Sinha once ran a kind dictatorship here, as did the late Surya Deo Singh ("Pehelwanji"); interviewing his son, Thakurta is unable to tell us who rules today. But that the coal mafia rules is not in doubt.

Part 5 first focusses on the resource curse the region's adivasis, its original inhabitants, suffer from. Forced to crawl into abandoned mines to tap, on pain of death, whatever coal is left; clambering on trucks to quickly throw out a few blocks of coal, cycling with panniers of coal up steep roads, the adivasis are absolutely marginalised today.

The adage 'What goes by the name of development for some may be a loss of livelihood for others' is a theme that runs through Parts 2-5; Part 5, therefore, is a summation of the film.

Part 5 also looks at the future what is the rehabilitation plan? Where will Jharia's 400,000 people go? There are those who are optimistic, but not Guha Thakurta. In Hot as Hell, he has actually revisited an area he had gone to 25 years before. As the camera shows, and as the simple, descriptive narration tells us, nothing much has changed.

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