Quietly flows the Damodar between Jharkhand and West Bengal. The serenity is punctuated by the sounds of punters plunking the poles and mechanized purr of boats shuttling between the banks. And the boats appear to be doing good business. Stacked up on the boats are sacks of coal dug up illegally from Jharkhand meant for landing points across West Bengal.
Around 4,000 tonnes of illegal coal is moved across daily to Purulia and Chiliama in West Bengal from Sindri, one of the export points in Dhanbad—the coal belt of Jharkhand. When the volume of illegal trade from across various points on the banks of the Damodar is added up, the state loses crores in revenue while smugglers and middlemen go rich.
Jharkhand is endowed with around 70 billion tonnes of coal spread across 12 major coalfields, and a majority of them are in Dhanbad. And it is the only state which has prime coking coal which can be directly fed to coke oven for making metallurgical coke. The open cast mines, particularly in Jharia, are a field ground for pilferers.
With the police stepping up vigil on roads, coal thieves have found boats easy way to smuggle the black diamond from Jharkhand to West Bengal through rivers and lakes in Dhanbad.
According to reports, large-scale smuggling of coal is routed through the Damodar to West Bengal from Baliapur, Nirsa, Thaparnagar and Panchet in the coal belt district.
The illegal trade is well-oiled. Throughout the night, coal illegally mined at Jairampur, Jharia and Ghanudih is carted on cycles to different points on the banks of the Damodar in Dhanbad. It is then loaded on mechanised and non-mechanised boats shuttling between the two states.
One of the boatmen is Gangadhar Rajwar of Sindri slum, who once was a daily workers at Sindri Fertilizer factory, spilled a few nuggets of information during a brief chat.
“Coal is in high demands in West Bengal both for domestic as well as industrial uses. That’s why majority of the boats here carry coal. Over 50 bags of 50 kilo each can be transported in one go if there is no other load,” said Gangadhar.
Gangadhar is not the boat owner. The boat is owned by a middleman who provides him Rs 80 a trip .
“On return, we come with people who want to shop in Dhanbad,” he said.
Even the boats are custom-made. A large boat manufactured here cost between Rs 70 ,000 and Rs 80 ,000 and can carry a minimum of three tonnes of coal at one go .
‘We do not know for whom the coal is being smuggled as we just want our remuneration,’ said boatman Ganesh (name changed).
Explaining the economics of safe passage, Gangdhar said: “We just have to sail to West Bengal. Police at the two sides are aware of the trade and get the ‘cut’”.
Deputy superintendent of Police ( Sindri) Vikash Pandey said that in past they had arrested some boatmen and their boats were dismantled. But in recent days no such action has been taken. Dhanbad police do not have speed boat or maritime police wing to check such smuggling.