People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
September 24, 2006
Corruption And Negligence Result In Death Of 50 Coal Miners
J S Majumdar
ON that fateful day on September 6, 2006, Sahdeo Mahato, Ganesh Rajwar, Kalipada Manjhi, Amulya Dhoba, Pran Gope and 45 other coal miners including their overman K K Singh, mine sardars Chandu Mahato, Mahadeb Bauri entered Nagda mine of Bhatdih colliery in Western Jharia area of Bharat Coking Coal Limited (BCCL) in the second shift at 4 p m. They had been working in 17 and 17.5 inclines, 460 meters deep underground. At about 7.40 p m entire over ground area rumbled due to an underground explosion, throwing stones and poisonous gas above ground through incline head with great force injuring a few workers on the surface. Two other workers, who were in zero incline, ran out with injuries. All three of them have been admitted in BCCL hospital at Dhanbad. However, all 50 miners inside died.
At Bhatdih, BCKU, affiliated to the CITU, is the main union. From the night of night September 6 itself BCKU general secretary and CITU’s all India secretary S K Baksi was camping at Nagda interacting with workers, BCCL management and the administration to arrange all matters concerning the dead workers and their families and those who have been injured. CITU’s Jharkhand state general secretary D D Ramanandan and its vice president Mihir Choudhury also rushed to the spot. CMSI’s (CITU) vice president Bansagopal Choudhury, MP and its general secretary Laksman Bagdi along with others also rushed to the spot from Ranigunj. CPI(M) Dhanbad district secretary G K Baksi also camped at Nagda. I also visited the place.
The absence of safety measures like sand supply, gas masks, effective ventilation, water spraying etc. were repeatedly brought to the notice of higher management of BCCL by West Jharia Area joint secretary Jainul Ansari, Bhatdih branch president Aqalat Biswal and secretary Manohar of BCKU in writing, in joint meetings and personal representation apprehending accident. Yet, their complaints were ignored.
Entire Damodar valley coal mines in BCCL area are methane prone and Bhatdih colliery was declared as ‘gassy’ mine grade three. As such, safety measures against methane gas are essential in these mines. Yet, with liberalisation policy, safety of workers has become the first casualty. Lack of investment and recruitment of personnel for safety on one side and the drive for higher production on the other created ground for such avoidable accidents and deaths of workers. The situation has further been aggravated by corruption and careerism amongst top officials who were keen on showing higher production and cutting even essential expenses. Bhatdih disaster is the accumulation of all these factors.
Gas masks are a must for personal safety of miners in these coal mines. About seven years ago gas masks were provided to the workers of Nagda mine whose expiry was for one year. There was no replacement of expired gas masks during the last six years. On September 6 workers were working without gas masks. Another essential safety measure was ventilation to force air with oxygen from outside to underground. On that day a Nagda ventilation remained defective and insufficient for the underground area. Methanometre for measurement of methane gas accumulation was defunct. After extraction of coal, it is mandatory to pack the holes with sand so that methane does not get accumulated in these holes. Contractors were appointed to supply sands. Due to high level corruption, on paper full quantity of sand was supplied by the contractors, but in actuality, the supply was less than half. As a result, many holes were not sand-packed allowing methane gas accumulation. On top of these, the laxity of colliery officials became evident when all of them remained absent at the time of explosion. All these and more were the immediate cause of Nagda coal mine disaster on September 6.
The question of why methane caught fire and caused the explosion at Nagda mine on that day is under investigation. However, postmortem reports of 50 dead coal miners established the cause of death due to asphyxiation in absence of oxygen and severe burn injuries. Use of gas masks would have saved many lives in view of the fact that the mine’s roof did not collapse due to the explosion.
ROLE OF DG MINES
The role of Director General of Mines (DGMS) is under scrutiny. Despite the above-mentioned shortcomings in safety, DGMS permitted operation in Nagda cola mine. The enquiry reports, following Gajlitand and Bagdighi cola mines accidents, recommended more frequent investigation of coal mines by DGMS before permitting coal mines’ operation. This recommendation was not only being consistently ignored by DGMS, but the frequency of investigation further came down. One ostensible reason given by DGMS is lack of personnel which is related to central government’s liberalisation policy. However, DGMS cannot ignore the charge of high level corruption against it.
Accident due to methane gas in BCCL area is not a new phenomenon. Both DGMS and BCCL management should have taken sufficient safety measures, taking lessons from the earlier methane-related accidents and death of coal miners at Amlabad where 52 workers died; at Jitpur where 48 workers died; at Sudamdih where 43 workers died. Yet, Nagda accident was allowed to occur.
Hundreds of coal workers died due to repeated accidents in BCCL area alone. Accidents took place due to methane gas explosion, due to inundation of mines from accumulated water, due to collapse of roof and for other reasons. After such accidents, there is always the rush of ministers, top officials and others to the spot; enquiries would be set up and their reports published. Yet, except Chasnala disaster in 1975, where 375 workers were drowned to death, none was punished for absence of safety in the coal mines. Here the basic question of accountability comes. Who should be made accountable for such accidents?
Not only in BCCL area, but in other areas also accidents in coal mines are taking place repeatedly. Therefore the safety of coal miners has become in important issue to fight at policy level as well as implementation level.