Criminal Negligence of Management Killed Workers In the ECL Rajmahal Coal Mine Accident

Prakash Viplav

A MAJOR accident took place at Maintola patch of the Rajmahal open cast mines of the Eastern Coalfields Limited, during the second shift of work in the night on December 29, 2016. The ground zero was barricaded and sealed by the CISF personnel and no one was permitted to enter the mine. According to the initial information, about 60 to 70 workers were buried under the huge quantity of debris, as overburden fell down on the workers and machines working below.

To investigate the causes of the accident, a team of CITU Jharkhand state committee, All India Coal Worker’s Federation and CMSI Union consisting of Prakash Viplav, general secretary, CITU, Jharkhand and R P Singh from CMSI (ECL) Vivek Choudhury, general secretary, Gaurango Chatterjee, and Sujit Bhattacharya, visited the site of accident, Lalmatia, in Godda district, Jharkhand on December 31, 2016.

The team found that the events leading to the tragedy seem to be much larger and worse than the accident itself.

The mining operations were outsourced to a private company called Mahaluxmi Infra Limited, a Gujarat based company. There are two main reasons for the accident. First the mad restlessness of ECL management to achieve its production target at any cost and second the unending profit-maximisation greed of outsourced company, Mahaluxmi Infra Ltd. We want to draw attention to the series of following events that led to accident in the mines.

Mining operations in this patch of Rajmahal mines remained closed for the last two months due to unsafe mining conditions. Suddenly, the signal was given to restart the operations on December 26, 2016. On what documented grounds did the DGMS grant permission to reopen the mines, is not clear. The management had not taken the report of the workers seriously on December 27, 2016. During the first shift, when they noticed cracks and duly reported the same to the management, it eventually took no action. Next day, on December 28, 2016, when workers again noticed that the cracks in the overburden had grown bigger they reported to the management for the second time regarding widening of cracks. But instead of taking decision to stop the work for safety reasons, it coerced the workers to continue their work under such hazardous conditions. Protesting workers were threatened of termination of jobs. As apprehended by the workers the overburden collapsed in the second shift of working on December 29, 2016 at 7.30 PM burying alive the workers working under the debris of collapsed overburden in all the three benches.

The fact finding team were informed that the height of the overburden was at least 100–150 metres, about one kilometre long and about 500 metre wide. The overburden dump was adjacent to working bench of the mine ignoring all provisions of approved mine plan and in violation of all rules for mines safety. The provision of maintaining a distance of 60 metres between overburden and working face of mines was not being followed which is a gross violation of mines safety rules/approved mine plan.

At the time of accident a minimum of 35 to 40 dumpers were in operation with their operator and helper in each machine. One shovel was also operational at that moment. It means a minimum of 70 to 80 workers were working at the time of accident. Some workers said that the number of operating dumpers were about 70 at the time of accident. The team found that as none of the victims was a local resident, there was no massive protest from the local people. The management is taking advantage of this. Rescue operations are insufficient. A few NDRF persons and only four excavators are deployed to remove the huge quantity of debris. As per the estimates of the fact finding team, more than one year time will be taken to remove debris, if present speed of rescue operation continues. The team felt that immediate deployment of 300 feet Dragline can remove the debris within one or two months to recover dead bodies of workers.

No legal records related to attendance, number of workers employed and deployment of workers at the time of accident is available. The team underlined that outsourcing of mining operations to a private company is the main reason for this disaster because their concern is to produce maximum quantity of coal ignoring all safety rules to maximise their profits. It opined that this is the biggest ever mine accident in an open cast mine in the world. It felt that the safety rules for open cast mines under ‘Mines Acts & Rules’ are very weak and insufficient.

 

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