In March 2014, a 21-year-old Muslim woman’s family was in the middle of marriage talks with a family from a neighbouring state. It was a smooth sail until thehe would-would be groom and his entourage rode to the woman’s home to draw up the wedding date. On thee road, the groom’s party tasted the swirling coal dust-laden air, stuffed their lungs with soot blown out of openen trucks transporting coal and soiled their clothes. Not ready to put up withth pollution in the area, they walked out of the alliance.
Welcome to Jaragdih township in Bokaro’s Bermo, which carries the tag off matchbreaker. The coal belt houses several Central Coalfields Limited coalmines, producing 10 million tonnes of coal annually.
A member of the State Commission for Women, Sabnam Parvin, who is a resident of Bermo, said: “The bridegroom’s family argued their son would fall sick coming to in-laws’ house.”
Pollution from coal fields is high on the minds of parents whose children have reached marriageable age in Bermo, which has several townships, including Phusro, Kathara, Jarangdih and Swang.
On a working day, the townships are blanketed in dust and ash-grey soott kicked aroundd bby wind. Coal dust falling off dumpers shuttling between coal mines and power plants is the main irritant. Fly ash, disposed of in abandoned mines, is also lifted by the wind.
According to villagers, the number of men and women calling off marriage after coming face to face with the unbearable pollution has risen. Some plan to relocate before beginning the matrimonial hunt.
There are no official figures on how many possible alliances were called off due to pollution, although there is strong anecdotal evidence to suggest match-making in these parts of the state is dictated by more than just caste and dowry considerations.
Krishna Kumar Chandok, ex-secretary of Yuva Vyavsayik Sangh, which is an association of young entrepreneurs in Phusro, said he knew a Marwari family in Phusro market whose son’s marriage tripped on air pollution. “The bride’s family decided to call off the negotiation after facing the coal and fly ash dust while coming to the boy’s house,” he said.
Pollution has turned Bermo into a no-go area for alliance seekers. However, it has led to a trade-off, tilting the economics of wedding traditionally harsh on the bride’s side. “Parents of bridegroom are ready to bear the entire cost of marriage,” said Sanjay Rungta, a trader in Phusro market. “They don’t want to lose out on a good alliance due to pollution.”
Hosts are even ready to shift the wedding venue out of Bermo heeding to the guests’ desire to be in their best attire, and stay unsoiled till the end of the function.
“The functions now mostly happen in Bokaro city, Ranchi and other places,” said Lakhan Lal Mahto, the state secretary of the All India Trade Union Congress.
The WHO’s 2014 pollution report says that cities ranking second through fourth in the pollution index are in India.
Bermo is bearing the impact of being a coal production hub. It critically affects the health of 15% of its six-lakh residents, who are under the age of six. More than 60% of the patients coming to the Bermo sub-divisional hospital have pollution-related illness.
Dr Sangeeta Kumari, the medical officer of the hospital, said: “Around 2,000 patients visit the sub-divisional hospital each month. They come here with breathlessness, asthma, skin disease and also heart problems,” she said. Inhaling fine dust particles from fly ash and coal dust can scar human lungs, say studies. “There is a colony in Jarangdih where 10% of the population have tuberculosis,” said Lalit Rajak, the ward commissioner of Jarandih area.
But how polluted is Bermo? Not even the State Pollution Control Board knows. Regional officer of the State Pollution Control Board DP Singh admitted that the level of air “pollution in Bermo coal belt is very high.” However, Singh said: “We haven’t measured it due to lack of staff.” Bhola Bhuiyya of Jarangdih is suffering from asthma. “The doctors have said I have to leave this place if I want to be cured. I am earning from this place. Where should I go?”