Bengaluru, June 1: Prime Minister Narendra Modi, aiming to boost India's nationalised coal sector to reduce the country's dependence on imports, is determined to evacuate over 1,00,000 people living close to coalfields in eastern India to new settlements so that it is easier to douse underground fires that have burned for a century and mine premium coal reserves to back the economy, a Reuters report said.
The stake to douse the fires in the coal deposits in Jharia in Jharkhand is high because they are used for top quality steel manufacturing in India. The country pays $4 billion a year to import only that grade of coal, the report added.
In February, PM Modi requested Jharkhand Chief Minister Raghubar Das to ensure that the fires are put off fast and people are evacuated sooner. The prime minister was in Jharkhand then.
Coal Secretary Anil Swarup lauded the government's move, saying the task is challenging but it took off in the right direction, the Reuters report said.
Private firms which started mining the coalfields in the late 19th century had left them exposed to the open air causing combustion and consequently the fire, according to experts, the report said. The glowing coals. The coals have been burning ever since with bootleggers' failure to put the fire out made it worse.
The bad news is, as per the Reuters report, the fires have already destroyed about 37 million tonnes of coal and made access to another 2 billion difficult, totalling assets under risk worth $220 billion.