Jharkhand mine tragedy was waiting to happen

Local activist's complaint points to violation of safety norms.

January 03, 2017 12:41 am | Updated 12:42 am IST - Kolkata:

Search for bodies continues at the coal mine in Godda, Jharkhand, on Monday.

Search for bodies continues at the coal mine in Godda, Jharkhand, on Monday.

The disaster at Rajmahal open cast mine in Jharkhand, which has claimed 18 mines so far, was waiting to happen as safety concerns raised by activists and locals were rubbished by authorities. Documents accessed by The Hindu reveal that a complaint by a local activist, pointing to violation of safety norms and forwarded to the Director General of Mines Safety (DGMS) by the Prime Minister’s Office, was termed “incorrect/false” in December 2015.

“After detailed inquiry on your complaint, the allegations made by you against the management of Rajmahal OCP (open cast mine) were found incorrect/false, which comes under the purview of Mines Act, 1952,” a letter written by the Director of Mines Safety (SD), Jharkhand had told Ashutosh Chakraborty, the activist who had filed the complaint with the PMO.

Interestingly, the response was sent on December 1, 2015. A year later, on December 29, 2016, hundreds of thousands of tonnes of overburden dump came crashing, burying men and machinery.

‘No probe was done’

“Had they conducted proper investigation into the complaint, such a huge tragedy could have been avoided,” Mr. Chakraborty said.

He said he had even provided photographs on how safety concerns were overlooked by not maintaining a proper bench while digging deep into the open cast mine. The overburden was dumped in a de-coaled area in huge quantities which led to the collapse, he said.

The activist said the responsibility of the mine collapse should not be limited to Mahalakshi Infracontract Pvt Ltd, whom the Eastern Coalfields Limited (ECL) had leased out the mining operation, but also extend to the ECL and even the Director General of Mines Safety.

“I am aware of the complaint but it was not specific,” Rahul Guha, Director General of Mines, Safety, told The Hindu . He said there were clear guidelines and a proper safety management system where assessment of risk is done before every mining operation. “It is unfortunate that when ground operations are on, such assessment of risk is ignored,” Mr. Guha added.

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