Eleven workers died and over 50 others were feared trapped when an open-cast coal mine at Paharia Bhodaye in Jharkhand’s Godda district collapsed on Thursday night.
The mining operation, which forms a part of the Eastern Coalfields Limited’s Rajmahal Opencast Project, was outsourced to the Mahalaxmi Company. Sources said work at the mine had resumed barely three days ago.
Police said the incident occurred during the shift change late on Thursday, and rescue operations could not be launched until the following morning due to fog and low light conditions. “The rescue operation was launched at 6 am on Friday. Eleven bodies have been taken out so far. We are focusing on saving the people still trapped inside the mine,” said Godda superintendent of police Hira Lal Chauhan.
Godda sub-divisional police officer Abhishek Kumar said an FIR would be lodged against the company, as per “normal procedure”.
The workers who died in the incident were identified as Sanjay Kumar from Ranchi; Javed Akhtar from Garhwa; Brajesh Yadav and Rajendra Yadav from Ballia in Uttar Pradesh; Harikishore Yadav and Sakil Khan from Siwan in Bihar; JP Rai and Nageshwar Paswan from Muzaffarpur in Bihar, and Ajit Patel, Vikas Patel and Nurul Hassan from Madhya Pradesh.
Tala Marandi, BJP legislator from Borio, told HT that over 50 workers were still trapped in the mine, which was nearly 300 metres deep. “It may take several months to dig them all out. About 26 Volvo trucks and six to seven bulldozers are still inside,” he said.
However, there seemed to be some disagreement over the number of people trapped in the mine. While Godda dub-divisional officer SK Pandey revealed the company’s estimate as 17, Indian National Trade Union Congress general secretary AK Jha said “as many as 80 workers – including vehicle operators – were working at the site on the fateful day”.
Labourers contracted by the Mahalaxmi Company wouldn’t allow the authorities to take away the bodies unless firm officials, who have reportedly absconded, were brought to the site. Two teams of the National Disaster Response Force from Kahalgaon and Patna were assisting Eastern Coalfields Limited personnel in rescuing trapped workers.
Marandi blamed lack of safety measures at the mine for the tragedy. “The workers had raised objections in this regard. They even refused to work, but were forced by the management to do so,” he said.
Choppers were sought from the state government to airlift workers rescued from the mine. Chief secretary Rajbala Verma and director general of police DK Pandey visited the site to monitor the operation.
Chief minister Raghubar Das announced a compensation of `2 lakh each for the deceased’s families, and `25,000 for the injured. Coal and renewable energy minister Piyush Goyal tweeted that an ex-gratia of `5 lakh would be paid for each person killed, in addition to compensation under the Workmen’s Compensation Act.