In Singrauli the air hangs thick with fumes of sulphur dioxide, nitrous oxide and other chemicals. Chimneys dotting the landscape spew dark grey smoke and the surrounding hills wear a barren look. The Singrauli region, on the border of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh is prominent on the industrial map of India for its abundance – 5.2 billion tonnes of proven reserves – of power grade coal. National Coalfields Limited (NCL), a subsidiary of Coal India, one of the largest producers of coal in Asia, is based here. With its proximity to the Rihand Dam, Singrauli is the ideal location for setting up high-capacity power plants. The region, termed as the ‘Energy Capital of India’ generates over 12% of the country’s power. It is the location for the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC), as well as thermal power plants run by Essar, Reliance and Hindalco to name a few.
With coal power, however, comes the attendant environmental damage. Less than half of the 3,458 square kilometers of coal fields remains under forest cover. Hundred-year-old forests have been cut down in large-scale deforestation, causing not only the repeated displacement of the tribal population, but also the annihilation of the wildlife that existed in these forests. Tigers once roamed these lands with freedom; locals now report only occasional sightings as their habitats are systematically destroyed.
But the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC), one of the many companies operating in the region, cannot be accused of ignoring the area’s biological diversity. In one park in the NTPC township in Singrauli, the authorities have set up a unique zoo. Unique because its inhabitants are made of concrete and plastic, artificial animals confined for some reason in cages. There is the tiger, the leopard, the elephant, inanimate captives of the men who drove away their flesh-and- blood relatives from these lands. There is also a roaring Tyrannosaurus rex, possibly symbolising the dinosaur coal production has become in the energy-strapped 21st century. As far as showcasing the irony of replacing natural habitats with plastic artifacts is concerned, there couldn’t have been a crueler example. It is as a gloomy reminder of the relationship that now exists between man and the wild.
Tanvi Mishra (b.1986, India) is a freelance documentary photographer based in New Delhi, India. Trained as an economist, she feels her background in the social sciences impact her choices as a visual storyteller.
As a practitioner of the medium, she is also interested in looking at photo-editorial and curatorial aspects of photography from that perspective. She is part of the editorial team for the photography quarterly PIX.
Her works have been published and/or commissioned by Der Spiegel, Le Figaro, Getty Images, Tehelka, Sunday Guardian, BBC.com, CARE among others.