Kanti Bai Sau (40) of Chhal village in Dharamjaigarh, Chhattishgarh, lost her home and one-acre farming land to an open-cast coal mine owned by ACC Ltd., for which she is yet to receive the promised compensation of Rs.2 lakh and a job to a family member. Her son died last year because of respiratory complications. She alleges that officials with the ACC Ltd have recently destroyed her current home forcefully to grab the land for coal mine and have been threatening them to relocate to a different place.



Following rampant deforestation and loss of their habitats in Odisha and Jharkhand, elephants began migrating to the forests of Chhattisgarh in the late ‘80s. In the Raigarh, Korba, Jashpur, and Surguja districts, where a lot of forest land is being diverted for coal mining, foraging elephants often enter villages, attracted by the crops in the fields. Elephants started crossing into Chhattisgarh in 1988 from Jharkhand, then a part of undivided Bihar. From 1995 onwards, the movement became regular. Slowly, the pachyderms started to reside here permanently. Nowadays, there are around 275-320 elephants in the state. The resulting human-elephant conflict has caused many incidents of crop damage and the loss of homes and other properties. The death toll due to human-elephant conflict is increasing in Chhattisgarh. As per the government’s record, around 800 people and 157 elephants have lost their lives since 2002. Every year at least 65 people and 14 elephants get killed in the state. The loss of lives, property, and crops led to an extra burden of crores of rupees on the state government every year. In the last three years (2019-2021), the state government has spent nearly ₹58 crores in paying compensation to the victims of elephant attacks.

Chhattisgarh, located in eastern India, is a densely forested state mostly populated with almost 42 tribal communities (as per the 2011 census report). According to official data, tribals comprise 32% of Chhattisgarh’s population. The state is famous as the main source of electricity for India. Chhattisgarh has 16% of the total coal deposits of India. It has been estimated that the 12 coalfields of the State located in the Raigarh, Surguja, Koriya, and Korba districts contain approximately 44,483 million tonnes of coal. The State ranks second in coal production by contributing over 18% to the total national production. As mining companies increasingly prefer open-cast mining for operational and economic benefits, villagers, especially tribal communities are the worst hit as they lose land, and mining companies often don’t honour their promises of rehabilitation and compensation. Getting compensation for the incidents of crop loss takes time. While visiting to the victims, inspection teams demand documents like photos and land records. It is very common here that farmers have not received money for years in most cases.

In the coal-rich Chhattisgarh, Korba itself has 13 large coal mines, including India’s largest opencast mine at Gevra, with a total production capacity of about 45 MTPA (as per FY 2021-22). Korba often referred to as the industrial hub of Chhattisgarh, is home to many power plants. Among them, the thermal power plants (NTPC, BALCO & BCPP, DSPM, CSEB East, CSEB West, and KTPS) together generate 3650 MW of electricity. Chhattisgarh is capable of generating 15,945 MW of power to which Korba itself contributes a major part. The natural landscape of Korba has been changing rapidly every year since the first open-cast mine began operating here. Thousands of people have lost their residential and agricultural land and pollution levels have shot up to such levels that Korba is now ranked third among the most critically polluted areas (CPAs) in the country in 2014-15. Recently Chhattisgarh minister Jai Singh Aggarwal flagged that around 12 percent of the population in the Korba industrial area in the state suffers from asthma and bronchitis due to extreme pollution.

In the last 20 years, the landscape of Chhattisgarh (mainly in Korba and Raigarh districts) has drastically changed due to unchecked and unregulated open-cast coal mining and installation of power plants. Heaps of coal dust and fly ash cover the area which was once covered by forest. It has also impacted the livelihoods and health of the inhabitants in the state. The growth of ‘Mahua’ flowers and “Tendu patta (leaves)” has declined rapidly. Those are the primary sources of livelihood for most of the villagers, especially tribals in the coal belt regions. Madhuca Longifolia or Madhuca Indica (Mahua tree) are used for making medicines as well as ‘Mahua’ (local alcohol) from the ‘Mahua’ flower.  The “Tendu patta (leaves)” or Diospyros Melanoxylon are used for making ‘Beedi’. More than 50 percent of those trees have disappeared due to deforestation.

Nowadays, the air quality in most of the adjoining areas of coal fields is exceptionally poor resulting in several health issues among the people. According to a study (published on November 16, 2017) focusing on the impact of coal mining on health and the environment, only in Sarasmal village 87% of inhabitants living near coal mines have suffered from one or more illnesses, including loss of hair, conditions affecting muscles, bones and skin, and dry cough. Medical and environmental professionals conducted the study in May 2017, in partnership with People First Collective, India, an environmental forum, and the “Adivasi Dalit Mazdoor Sangathan”, a social organization. On March 30, 2017, India Water Portal reported – “At the Kosampalli-Sarasmal panchayat area in Raigarh district, more than 100 earning members from 240 families have died from respiratory and other health diseases in the last two decades.” The surface water as well as the groundwater is polluted so much by the waste from mining that it has become unusable in most places. Out of the 116 villages in the Tamnar block of Raigarh district, at least 90 villages are facing serious groundwater depletion.

In 2005, hoping to minimize human-elephant conflict, the Chhattisgarh assembly passed a resolution seeking central approval for two elephant reserves. out of which one elephant reserve included areas of Bandalkhol and Tamor Pingla forests, and the second one was to be the Lemru elephant reserve. With an area of 450 sq. km, Lemru reserve in Korba district received clearance from the Ministry of Environment and Forests in 2007 but was shelved by the state government in 2008 to facilitate coal mining in virgin forests. According to the state government then, the proposed sanctuary would block at least 40 million tons of coal production per annum. Local activists stated, “Industry lobbies have been influencing the governments at both the center and state. The Chhattisgarh government quietly sacrificed the concerns and conservation of both local people and elephants to suit the needs of companies.” Later, on August 15, 2019, the plan for the Lemru elephant reserve was revived, with the government of Chhattisgarh declaring the formation of the reserve for ensuring the conservation and protection of elephants. The final area proposed for the reserve is 1,995.48 square kilometers, significantly higher than the 450 sq. km. proposed earlier.

I was introduced to the majestic forests of Chattisgarh in the year 2013. The most striking aspect of a place connected so closely with nature is the omnipresent balance one feels in the simplest of interactions between its humans, flora, and fauna. Space and recourses are shared harmoniously, forming an inviolate inner equilibrium, and an outer ecological balance. The ruthless encroachment in the forest by coal mining activity is not an impersonal episode for the forest dwellers. It is an invasion of their homes, lifestyles, privacy, and dignity – cold-hearted poaching, without even a semblance of remorse. Home is a sacred space, and it is a basic right to be assured of its permanence. The humans and elephants of Chhattisgarh are increasingly bereft of this vital requirement with every passing day, a loving family broken by incessant promises of ‘development’ to the country.


Spread over 19.99 Sq. Km. and with a total production capacity of 35 MTPA, Dipka coal mine in Korba, Chhattishgarh is one of the largest coal mines in Asia.
Nowadays, elephant death due to electrocution has become a common incident here in Chhattisgarh. While the wild elephants reach to the farming field in search of food, they unfortunately come into contact with the live wires there.
Wild elephants roaming in the farming fields at night often die of electrocution upon contact with live wires laid by farmers in the fields to save their crops.
Damaged houses by the wild elephants have become a common view at the forested villages in Chhattisgarh since 2005.
“We were sleeping when the elephants broke into our room. Somehow, we managed to escape but my left leg was broken when a large part of the wall fell on my leg. My husband Hetuaram Khalkho (75) saved my life from the elephants,” – recalls Rujri Khalkho (70) standing inside at her damaged home at Fitting Para village of Dharamjaigarh, Chhattishgarh. She received only a handful of Rs. 10,000 as compensation from the state government which was not sufficient to repair their home and her treatment.
A herd of wild elephants in a dense forest near Ongna village in Raigarh district, Chhattishgarh.
Forest have destroyed to make path for the proposed railway corridor from Kharsia – Chhal – Gharghoda – Korichhapar up to Dharamjaigarh with a Spur-28 km from Gharghora to Dongamahua, totaling about 104 Km to connect coal mines of Gare- Pelma Block and three feeder lines at Chhal, Baroud and Dharamjaigarh with an additional length of about 29.2 Km. Hectares of virgin forests are in threat of rampant coal mining in near future.
Chhattisgarh has a significant tribal population in the forested hill areas as well as at the plane regions. Many tribal villages in Dharamjaigarh, Chhattisgarh have fallen in the proposed areas for open cast coal mining accuired by DB power Ltd.
Sabitri Sheel who lives with her husband and son at a village in Dharamjaigarh, is standing inside their damaged house caused by a sudden attack by wild elephants. Nowadays, villagers have to live in panic as dozens of people have been killed by wild elephants in the region. They are thinking to migrate to another place. “Till now, we received only Rs. 4,000/- as compensation from the government which is not enough to even repair a small part of the damage” – Sabitri said.
Previous home of Monoranjan Roy (65) at Merarmath colony village in Dharamjaigarh, Chhattishgarh. He had to relocate with his family after a herd of wild elephants broke into this home almost two years ago. His left shoulder was broken during this incident but he is yet to receive compensation for the damage.
Tuskers mostly migrating from adjoining Odisha and Jharkhand forests have learnt to barge into the villages and mauled people very often. Owing to decreasing forest cover and food in the jungles of Chhattisgarh, the wild elephants attack people who cross their path as they look for food in farming fields.
Damaged crops by the wild elephants. Crops in the fields have also become target of the pachyderms to fulfill their need of daily meal.
Sadhu Ram Bhagat(Middle), a farmer from Madorma village in Chhattisgarh, is yet to receive compensation for the loss of his crops damaged by an elephant herd in 2012.
Gouri Mondal (L) of Baisi colony in Dharamjaigarh, Chhattisgarh, at her home which was destroyed by a herd of wild elephants.
“We can’t stay at home when blasting takes place in mines as lot of stones fly out of the mine areas and hit our roof. They break the roof sheets and sometimes the walls develop cracks because of heavy tremors,” – says Ratna Bai (50) of Sarasmal village in Tamnar, Chhattishgarh. Ratna Bai’s family lost 10 acres of agricultural land and their house to an open-cast coal mine opened by Jindal in 2008 and they now reside at a makeshift home newly built just about 20 feet away from the coal mine. According to her, the coal mining company authorities have been trying to evacuate them from the new place also. She says they have not received compensation or a job for her son Bal Kumar (26) as promised by Jindal.
Spread over 1,655 hectares and with a total production capacity of 50 MTPA (normative) and 62.5 MTPA (peak), Kusmunda in Korba, Chhattishgarh is one of the largest coal mines in Asia. About 12 villages were acquired for the mine when it was commissioned in 2008.
Bal Kumar (26) has nothing to do nowadays as they have lost their 10 acres of farmland to a Jindal open-cast coal mine in 2008. He never got the job that Jindal had promised him while acquiring land for the coal mine. “My father Santosh Rathia died of a respiratory disease at the age of 50. I remember my childhood days when I used to play with my friends in front of our house. The coal mine has grabbed everything that belonged to us as well as our future'” – he said at their house in Sarasmal village of Tamnar in Chhattishgarh.
Tribal women of Gare village of Tamnar in Chhattishgarh congregated for “Coal Satyagraha” to protest against proposed land acquisition for coal mine by Jindal. According to them, unchecked and unregulated mining in the area is not only harming the environment but having a disastrous effect on agriculture, air quality and people’s health nowadays.
Tribal men are digging for coal as a symbolic protest during a “Coal Satyagraha” to protest against proposed land acquisition for coal mine by Jindal at Gare village in Tamnar, Chhattisgarh.
During the coal satyagraha, the tribal people of Gare village in Tamnar, Chhatisgarh said that they do not want coal mines or power plants but are willing to make some concessions if forest and agricultural land is not acquired and are demanding rights to mine their own land if the government desperately needs to mine for coal in the area. They say they are also willing to pay twice the payable royalty to the government for this but are determined not to lose their land at any cost.
A wild elephant at a paddy field just outside the forest at Silingpara village in Dharamjaigarh, Chhattishgarh.
At Tendumar village in Dharamjaigarh, Chhattisgarh, panicked women are busy in gossiping about a last night wild elephant attack in some farming lands at a neighboring village.
Bodhram Chauhan (80) (L) and Srimti Saniro Chauhan (65) (R) lost their son Jagan Singh Chauhan (30) in a wild elephant attack in Krondha village of Dharamjaigarh, Chhattishgarh. “When at night, Jagan was returning home after work from a nearby village, the incident took place. That whole night we awaited for him and found his dead body in the morning,” – mourned Bodhram.
Ramela Bairagi (65) who lost her son Jagdish Bairagi (40) in a sudden elephant attack on 17th January, 2011, is mourning at their residence in Madorma Village, Chhattisgarh. This passport size photo of Jagdish is the only thing remains to her as a memory.
Hirasai Chauhan’s wife says her husband died on the spot after being mauled by a wild elephant inside their home in Krondha village in Dharamjaigarh in 2012.
Biswajit Mondal (54) at his home at Santoshnagar, Dharamjaigarh. One night, a herd of wild elephant broke into their room while he was sleeping along with his six family members. “One of the elephants caught me by its trunk and threw me with tremendous force to a corner of the room. I was rescued by a neighbour promptly while the elephant was approaching me to trample,” – said Biswajit.
Biswajit Mondal (54) of Santoshnagar village in Dharamjaigarh, Chhattisgarh lost his two legs in an elephant attack at his home. He was received only a handful of compensation of Rs. 12,000 from the state government in 2015. Somehow, he managed to repair his home but the money was not enough for his treatment. “Now I can neither sit nor walk properly. It is even more painful when I try to sleep as I can’t lie down for longer time. There is no earning member in our family right now and we may all die of hunger soon.” – said Biswajit.
Girja Bai Chauhan (55) who lives with her husband, three sons and two daughters just beside the ACC Limited’s open-cast coal mine in Chhal village of Dharamjaigarh in Chhattishgarh. “We have been living next to this mine for almost 10 years and helplessly tolerating the encroachment by the coal mining company. Almost 8 acres of our farming field have been grabbed by the mining authorities and they haven’t fulfilled a single promise they made while acquiring land. ACC Ltd.’s officials of stealing their ration cards and now forcing them to vacate their present home also for only Rs.1 lakh. ” – Girja Bai accuses.
In the coal-rich Chhattishgarh, Korba itself has 13 large coal mines with a total production capacity of about 140 MTPA. The natural landscape of Korba has been changing rapidly every year since the first open-cast mine began operating here. Almost 24,364 hectares of land is currently under coal mining (including closed mines) and coal-based TPPs in Korba, and of that about 90 percent is related to coal mining (21,779 hectares).
“Coal mining authorities have sent us into a dark future and unhealthy environment to live and breathe in.” – said Girja Bai Chauhan while showing some fresh cracks on the wall of their home due to blast in the coal mine at Chhal village in Chhattisgarh.
A five minute’ walk is enough to realize the poor condition of inhabitants of the Chhal village of Dharamjaigarh, Chhattishgarh, located just beside an ACC Limited’s open-cast coal mine with a production capacity of 3.5 mtpa. Mostly broken houses here and there, villagers with heavy cough and frail figures, dangerously hanging houses just beside the mine at Chhal village is a common view.
Spread over 2,096 hectares, Gevra in of Korba area is the India’s largest opencast coal mine and has a total production capacity of 45 MTPA.
The relentless stream of coal carrying trucks in the open cast coal mining areas of Chhattisgarh is a common view.
Korba Super Thermal Power Plant is located at Jamnipali in Korba district of Chhattisgarh. The power plant is one of the coal-based power plants of National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC). The coal for the power plant is sourced from Kusmunda and Gevra coal mines.
Pipelines carrying fly ash slurry from NTPC Thermal Power Plant in Korba, Chhattishgarh to fly ash pond. According to the local people coming out of slurry from the leaked pipelines is a common incident here. “There is no fresh air to breath, fresh water to drink. Coal has usurped everything here.” – a villager said.
Fly ash pond at the Balco Thermal Power Plant which is located right next to a residential area in Korba, Chhattishgarh. Fly ash is known to contain trace elements such as Arsenic, Barium, Mercury among others and such unlined ponds could be polluting groundwater by leaching.
Water bodies just beside the Gevra open cast coal mine in Korba, Chhattisgarh. In many regions of Chhattishgarh, local people using polluted water bodies caused by the waste from coal mines is a common view nowadays. Even the groundwater quality is affected by careless mining. Most of the villages near coal mines are facing serious groundwater depletion here.
People, living just beside thermal power plants are a common view in Korba, the power hub of Chhattishgarh. It had the misfortune of being close to a thermal power plant, or rather, near the ash pond of a thermal power plant. The people of the area were plagued with the menace of fly ash. According to the local people here – “The ash is everywhere. When the wind blows, everything is coated with a layer of white grey ash. The road, ponds, our houses, sometimes even our spectacles get coated with a fine layer of the ash.”
“We were forced to give our four acres of agricultural land and old house to the ACC Ltd for coal mine. Now we only have a shanty to live with my husband, two daughters and a son.” – says Ganga Bai Sahu (45) who has been suffering from tuberculosis for the last three years. ACC Ltd promised two jobs to the family of Ganga Bai, but her husband and the only son have ended as daily wage labour in the coal mine for only Rs.100 per day.
Ganga Bai Sahu (45) is busy in making hair of her youngest daughter at their shanty just beside the ACC Limited’s open cast coal mine at Chhal village, Chhattisgarh. She has been suffering from tuberculosis for the last three years and lost their previous home and farming land to the ACC Limited’s coal mine.
Rohit Rathia (55) who has been suffering from tuberculosis for 5 years and his wife Manki Rathia (50) at their home just beside a Jindal open-cast coal mine at Sarasmal village in Tamnar, Chhattishgarh. Twenty acres of their farming land had been acquired for the coal mine but they received only a handful amount as compensation from the authorities. Rohit is not sure if he will able to continue his bi-weekly medical check-ups owing to his bad financial condition. According to the villagers here, one may find at least two patients in every 10 families severely suffering from lung diseases such as Coal Workers’ Pneumoconiosis (CWP), Silicosis and Tuberculosis. “Ten years ago, the situation was not like that but now there are 63 widows among the only 150 families in this village.” – says Kanhai Patel, a resident of Sarasmal.
Harishchandra Bhagat (65) of Sarasmal village in Tamnar, Chhattishgarh has been suffering from silicosis for the last four years. He lost two acres of agricultural land to a jindal coal mine in 2008 and now lives with his family at the edge of an open-cast coal mine. “We had a happy life and I used to earn enough to feed my family but nowadays I can’t breathe well and even the smallest of tasks take a lot of effort.” – Harishchandra mourned.
“As I have been suffering from silicosis for the last four years, I just lie on my bed for most part of a day and await death.” – Harishchandra (65) mourns at his home just beside the Jindal open-cast coal mine.
Villagers are at a cremation ground after burning one of their neighbour’s death body, adjacent to the Kusmunda open cast coal mine in Chhattisgarh. According to the villagers there, more than 100 earning members from 240 families of the village have died from respiratory and other health diseases in the last two decades. The immunity of the people has drastically reduced due to living in the polluted environment near the coal mines. They fear that the human-elephant conflict and the changes in the climate in forms of air, soil and water pollution will increase more in near future.