Accuses BCCL of not paying attention to "symptom of a risk of collapse"

Till late on Tuesday afternoon, over 24 hours after an coal underground mine at the Basantimata colliery in Nirsa collapsed, killing four miners, it was not clear if the body of Arup Chatterjee, an official at the Bharat Coking Coal Limited (BCCL), which runs the mine, would be rescued.

Villagers from four panchayats gathered in a circle around the slanting mouth of the mine and watched from early morning as Nirsa MLA Arup Chatterjee led a rescue team 1500 metres into the mine to extricate his namesake’s body from under fallen rocks.

At 3.30 p.m., wary BCCL workers emerged, their headlamps around their necks. A few minutes later, over 50 villagers, who quarry stones and dig wells in nearby areas, emerged carrying axes, hammers and chisels. With the BCCL rescue team failing to recover the trapped official’s body, they were called in at 6 a.m. from Madanpur village, 15 km from the colliery.

“We went in three groups of 15-20. We walked several hundred feet inside before we reached the body. It was trapped under rocks. We chipped away and broke the stone slowly as there was no way out to preserve and remove it,” said Sheikh Ashraful, his vest stained with an injury sustained during the recovery effort.

The deceased official’s family members, who accompanied his body, wrapped in a shroud, from the mine to the BCCL office nearby, were angry. “I, two relatives and three family friends have been inside the mine since the morning because if we left it to BCCL Arup’s body would not have been recovered even in the next two days. The MLA got the rescue done, BCCL’s rescue effort and their management has been a failure,” said J.D. Chatterjee, Mr. Chatterjee’s father-in-law. “It has been a day since the accident but they have not arranged even four vehicles to carry the four bodies.”

BCCL workers recalled that the workers were about to leave, their shift was to be over at 12 p.m. When the mine’s roof collapsed, seven workers in the area — where depillaring work was on — got trapped; four died on the spot.

The body of trammer Harilal Harijan was the first to be recovered on Monday evening. Soon after midnight, the body of Litti Sau, a side-discharge loader, was retrieved and a few hours later, at 5 a.m., the body of Sitaram Manjhi, a cableman, was brought out.

“BCCL managers were planning to get a machine from Singrauli which would have taken 48 more hours. They have no machines and no men. Workers have shared that for four days they had heard the sound of sand falling which they saw as a symptom of a risk of collapse, but their managers did not pay attention,” said MLA Arup Chatterjee, who was in the mine for six hours.

“The mine was closed briefly in January because there was a fire in an opencast mine nearby which was connected to this one. After doubts over risks were removed, it was reopened. We still have to enquire if there was an error in method, or what was the reason,” said Deputy DG (Central zone) A. Kumar. “Families may have been allowed inside for rescue once the manager gave permission,” he added.

BCCL operates 70 mines in Dhanbad, of which less than half are underground mines.