In contrast public awareness of environmental problems in the Damodar coalfields is derived mainly from direct exposure to pollutants, and to a lesser degree from reports in the media.
Since only a small literate and upper income group in the Damodar Coalfield region usually read newspapers, the role of the media was not significant in India in disseminating information on environmental problems.
As expected, the level of awareness of the environmental pollution, analyzed from responses to a modified version of the standard natural hazard research questionnaire in the Damodar Valley coalfields was generally high in urban areas. Considering the relatively high degree of subsidence, fire, and air and water pollutions in the Damodar Coal towns such as Jharia, Katragarh, Dhanbad, Kulti and Barakar, this is not surprising.
Indian respondents defined their awareness of pollution in terms of an effect such as coal dust or dirt causing damage to health or clothes. On the other hand, a much longer proportion of respondents gave an effectual definition of environmental pollution indicating results such as damage to streams and whole watersheds, damage to forests, damage to wildlife, and the elimination of other potential uses of land such as for recreational purposes.
The majority of the Indian respondents giving ‘combinational’ and ‘casual’ definitions of environmental problems were living in zones of high pollution or environmental damage in the Damodar Valley.
Generally speaking, understanding the frequency and magnitude of environmental problem was greater among the residents of the high-hazard zone adjacent to the principal coalmines than anywhere else in the Damodar Valley.
A positive relationship was noted in between the frequency and magnitude of exposure to environmental problems and the respondent’s perception of environmental degradation as a problem. People living some distance away from coalmines shared only an anxiety about the environmental problems resulting from coal mining.
They were basically aware of the hazards, but knew less about it in terms of its frequency of occurrence and severity.
The relative importance of environmental problems in the respondent’s mind in India was also ascertained. It was found that residents of the Damodar Valley including those living in the high pollution zone in the two regions, mentioned unemployment, housing conditions, and inflation as more important than environmental problems.
In addition, in India, the respondents frequently mentioned high food prices, and scarcity of essential commodities as more important than environmental problems.
This is not to suggest that environmental pollution was not perceived as a problem; it simply existed at a lower level of importance in the economic context in both mining areas where economic problems overwhelm the life of the bulk of the population. The awareness of environmental pollution is widespread in the coal mining areas of India.
The studies in the Damodar Valley are also consistent with the survey of public’s awareness of pollution in the Hooghly-side industrial strip of India. Additional studies of the environmental pollution and public response to the environmental problems are needed in India as well as other developing countries.