Affiliations: Research Fellow, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies The Australian National University, Canberra, Australia. <[email protected]>
Note:  Conjoint Fellow, Newcastle University, Newcastle, NSW, Australia
Abstract: A characteristic of the Jharia-Raniganj coalfields area is the sight of bicycles carrying sacks of coal, the bike being used as an inanimate packhorse with men pushing them along the roads connecting the mines with the neighbouring towns instead of pedalling. This is one tiny part of an extensive illegal coal supply network involving millions of tonnes annually. Who are these coal cycle wallahs, how much coal do they carry, where does the coal come from, and where does it go? Our objective here is to provide an estimate of one part of the ‘black’ (or illegal) coal economy in one part of the coal-producing tracts of India by describing the nature and extent of the supply of coal (or coke) provided by bicycles. We recognize that it is indeed a rather tiny part of the entire gamut of illegal coal mining, transportation, and distribution network that is in place in the colliery tracts of India. This paper examines this cycle distribution network and provides an estimate of the amount of coal supplied in this manner throughout the eastern Indian coalfields of Jharkhand and West Bengal. This estimate is based on recent field surveys of the amount of coal loaded onto cycles for transport to a particular town, assuming demand was local- and urban-population driven. The study was supported by previous experience in the field and by interviews with key informants. At the end, the paper attempts to explain the occurrence of the phenomenon of illegal coal mining and tries to provide some policy suggestions.