Bicycle Diaries: India's bike coal carriers

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India's bike coal carriers

courting death for a living

Jharkhand, 18 March 07: The India PR Wire reports on impoverished bikers who daily haul over 300 lbs across 27 miles of dangerous terrain.
Ramesh Hembrom begins his journey for Ranchi at midnight from Patratu on a bicycle laden with 1.5 quintals of coal. He reaches the Jharkhand capital in the evening the next day, playing hide and seek with death every time.

He completes the arduous 45-km journey in nearly 18 hours, cycling precariously through steep zigzagging hilly roads for a living even as death beckons him daily either in the form of an accident or a slow painful end from tuberculosis.

Hembrom earns Rs.300-400 from the sale. He does this twice a week, earning between Rs.2,000 and Rs.3,000 a month. "We pick up coal from closed and abandoned mines (of Central Coalfield Ltd, CCL) and sell them in Ranchi," explained Ramesh.

Poverty is the main reason for taking up such a job. The people who ferry coal thus face serious risk two ways - frequent accidents during the journey or tuberculosis overcomes them.

On steep roads, these men push the coal-laden bicycles with their chest, holding the handle with their hands. If the balance is lost, it can mean a free fall in the ditch alongside the road. Such ferrying can be witnessed on roads between Ranchi and Patratu, between Ranchi and Patna and in other places in Jharkhand. Thousands are engaged in the activity.

Kishna Mahto is another poverty-stricken coal carrier from the Rajarappa colliery, which is 60 km from Ranchi. He crossed the dangerous Ramgarh valley. "We know the risks. Every year more than 20 people die due to TB and an equal number meet with accidents. But we have no option but to engage ourselves in this business," said Mahto.

Coal ferrying is totally illegal as it is extracted illegally, mainly from abandoned mines. "Most people engaged in ferrying coal are poor and get involved for some money. The real culprits are the mafias who engage them in it," an official of CCL told IANS.

Such coal carriers are found in other districts as well, including Bokaro, Dhanbad and Giridih. Some suffering from TB are still engaged in this business.

"I am the only bread earner of my family. And so as long as I am alive, I will continue to carry the coal," said Somnath Baitha, now in his 40s. He moves coal from the Rajarappa colliery to Ranchi. Asked if he was being treated for TB, he said: "I an under treatment at the government hospital in Ramgarh. Doctors have suggested rest and better treatment in Ranchi which I cannot afford."

These people sell their coal at half the market price to brokers in Ranchi. "The brokers bargain with us because the sale is illegal. We never get the market price. We need a market where we can sell coal to get money and go back home," bemoaned another coal carrier.

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