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Dhanbad Mine Tragedy: Rescue Operation Over After Recovery of 5 Bodies, SIT Begins Probe

PTI

Last Updated: February 02, 2022, 21:35 IST

Dhanbad/Ranchi

At least 24 people have died in accidents, including illegal mining, at ECL's mines in Nirsa itself since 2019, an official said. (PTI File)

At least 24 people have died in accidents, including illegal mining, at ECL's mines in Nirsa itself since 2019, an official said. (PTI File)

Dhanbad Deputy Commissioner Sandip Kumar said those killed in the Gopinathpur incident, including four women, were not illegal miners, and they had gone to the abandoned open cast mine just to collect residual coal lying around.

After extricating five bodies from an abandoned coal mine in Jharkhand’s Dhanbad district, government authorities and the Eastern Coalfields limited Wednesday called off the rescue operation, while locals and leaders of political parties claimed more people were still trapped under the debris. The district administration and ECL management have barricaded Gopinathpur colliery in Nirsa block, and a Special Investigation Team (SIT) headed by Superintendent of Police (Dhanbad-Rural) Reeshma Ramesan has launched a probe.

“There are no chances of finding anybody in the debris. The rescue operation has been stopped and the spot has been barricaded…A probe has been initiated by the SIT to ascertain the reasons behind the mishap,” said Sub-Divisional Police Officer Pitamber Singh Kharwar. At least 24 people have died in accidents, including illegal mining, at ECL’s mines in Nirsa itself since 2019, an official said.

Dhanbad Deputy Commissioner Sandip Kumar said those killed in the Gopinathpur incident, including four women, were not illegal miners, and they had gone to the abandoned open cast mine just to collect residual coal lying around. He assured the families of those killed that no FIRs will be lodged against them. The scene of the tragedy is around 45 km from the Jharia coalfields where scores of underground fires are still blazing in hollowed out mines, as coking coal worth crores of rupees goes up in smoke every year. The first of the fires was detected in the early 20th century. Some could be extinguished while many still burn.

Thousands of families have shifted to safer places as village clusters sat atop blazing coal mines, a Coal India official said. He said some 1.04 lakh families, including over 72,000 illegal settlers still need to be evacuated from 595 sites. Smoke from the underground fires can be seen billowing out of craters on farms and along the highways. Meanwhile, former Nirsa MLA Arup Chatterjee has claimed many people are still trapped under the debris. He insisted 13 people were killed in three mining incidents that occurred simultaneously in the area, including at the Gopinathpur colliery.

“I had informed SDPO, Nirsa, and Sub-divisional Magistrate of Dhanbad at around 7.30 am on Tuesday. Had they responded quickly, villagers would not have taken away the bodies,” Chatterjee said. According to some accounts, villagers usually take away the bodies fearing administrative action over the involvement of the deceased in illegal mining activity, which is rampant in the area.

Chatterjee alleged villagers had taken away three bodies from Gopinathpur Colliery on Tuesday morning and later police recovered five more during the rescue operation. Besides, he claimed, locals also carried away three bodies from Dahibari project of BCCL and two from Kapasara open cast project after similar incidents.

However, the district administration and ECL management maintained five bodies were recovered from just one site. Sanjiv Kumar, the Senior Superintendent of Police, said authorities found no signs of any collapse and subsidence at the Kapasara mines of ECL and Chach Victoria project of Bharat Coking Coal Ltd (BCCL).

When asked about illegal mining in Jharkhand, a senior Coal India official, who did not want to be quoted, said tackling such activities was the responsibility of the state government as they generally occurred in abandoned coal mines. The official said a total of 17 FIRs have been registered by state-run coal companies under its domain in fiscal 2020-21 with regard to illegal mining, including one each by the Eastern Coalfields and Central Coalfields in the state.

The district administration has sought mines safety audit report of ECL, a Coal India subsidiary, from the Directorate General of Mines Safety (DGMS), SSP Kumar said. An ECL official said the company has filed a complaint at Nirsa police station against unknown people. Unauthorised entry into abandoned mines is prohibited and security has been sought from the administration, he said.

BJP’s Nirsa MLA Aparna Sengupta demanded that a murder case be lodged against ECL officials for the loss of lives. Hitting out at the Hemant Soren government, she claimed such incidents have increased in the recent times.

Former Chief Minister Raghubar Das of the BJP demanded compensation and jobs for the kin of those killed. Five people allegedly involved in illegal mining were killed in Nirsa block area in 2021, while the death toll stood at seven each in 2020 and 2019.

Coal Minister Pralhad Joshi had recently said illegal mining was carried out mainly in abandoned mines and shallow coal seams situated in remote and isolated places. “It is a law and order problem which is a state subject. Hence primarily, it falls under the domain of the state/district administration to take necessary deterrent action to stop/curb illegal mining of coal,” Joshi had said.

The Ministry of Coal had launched a web-based application called Coal Mines Surveillance & Management System (CMSMS) in July, 2018 to check such clandestine activities. The GIS-based portal has registered as many as 246 complaints in the leasehold areas from ECL, 25 from BCCL and 16 from CCL, all coal India arms.

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first published:February 02, 2022, 21:35 IST
last updated:February 02, 2022, 21:35 IST