Coal mine tragedy in Jharkhand

Brutal neglect of the safety of the colliery workers

Nearly 100 workers are believed to have been buried in a massive earth cave-in that occurred on December 29, 2016, at the Eastern Coalfields Limited (ECL) Lalmatia colliery in Godda district of Jharkhand, 400 km from the state capital Ranchi.

Preliminary investigations have suggested that mining operations were underway 200ft beneath the ground when a 100ft vertical mud wall caved in between 7.30 pm and 8.30pm, blocking the entrance and trapping the workers as well as several machines. Rescue operations went on for nearly a week after the tragedy, but reports indicate that none of the trapped workers survived. Official estimates of the number of workers trapped and killed continue to vary.

Participating in the rescue operations, Shri Jai Prakash, assistant commandant of the National Disaster Relief Force (NDRF) from Patna, minced no words to say the tragedy was manmade. “This is not a natural collapse. It is manmade. There are no measures for safety here. The area where we are currently searching is still risk-prone”, he said.

Most of the trapped workers are reported to be from poor peasant families in Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and neighboring states.

Eastern Coalfields is a Public Sector Company in charge of coalmines under the public sector enterprise, Coal India Limited (CIL), in the eastern states of the country. However, the practice of Coal India Limited and its subsidiaries is to outsource the actual mining work, including the operation of the mines, and related activities such as transportation to private companies.

NDRF engineers and other rescue officials of the government, as well as several mining experts have clearly said that the safety measures in the mines are abysmal and such tragedies are completely avoidable if the safety regulations are strictly implemented. However, the private companies to which the mines are outsourced, flagrantly violate even the most basic safety regulations, to maximize their profits, while the chieftains of the state owned PSU (ECL and CIL) turn a blind eye.  In this case, it was reported that officials of the private company Mahalaxmi, to whom the mine had been outsourced, as well as the private transport company quickly fled the scene as soon as the cave-in occurred.

According to General Secretary of the INTUC affiliated Rashtriya Colliery Mazdoor Sangh, A.K. Singh and MLA Ashok Kumar from Mahagama, a similar cave-in had occurred at the same mine in 2012, which had claimed 3 lives. Due to that incident, the then ECL General Manager was removed from his position and the mine was closed. However, in 2015, ECL decided to resume the mining work at this colliery, despite several letters from the union warning about the hazardous condition of the mine, having been written to the Union Home Minister and senior officials of ECL. They have described the tragedy as “not an industrial accident; it is cold-blooded murder for which ECL officials are responsible”. 

The coal mine tragedy in Godda once again shows how safety regulations that are supposed to be followed in mines are routinely violated, experts at the Indian Institute of Technology (Indian School of Mines), Dhanbad have pointed out.

R.M. Bhattacharjee, a professor at Indian Institute of Technology (Indian School of Mines) said ” Coal India production is only 6 per cent through underground mining today while 94 per cent is from open cast mines. Everyone prefers these mines because they are easier to access. But, safety standards are abysmally low,”. He added “Even the statutory rules of the government are not binding on open cast mining. For underground mining, which of course is the most dangerous, there are several rules and regulations in place. However, there aren’t many measures listed for open cast mining, apart from very basic ones”. It must be noted that the recent tragedy has taken place is an open cast mine.

Alongside of the Public Sector companies operating in the mining sector, the Indian state is also rapidly opening up the mining sector to Indian and foreign private capitalist monopolies. Efforts are on by the state to change the laws and rules regarding land acquisition and granting of permission to run the mines, so as to attract more private monopolies to the mining sector. Needless to say, the main focus of the private capitalist monopolies will be maximization of their profits, and the safety of the mine workers will be even more brutally ignored. 

The Communist Ghadar Party of India condemns the callousness of the Indian state and its officials towards the safety of the workers in the coalmines. Tragedies such as these are an inevitable consequence of the capitalist system prevalent in our country, in which the biggest capitalist monopoly houses controls the state. The entire economy and political system and process is organized to enable these monopoly houses to reap maximum profits by savagely exploiting the working class and toiling people. CGPI calls on the working class and people to unite and organize to overthrow this capitalist system and usher in a new society, led by the working class, which will have as its focus the security and well-being of all the working people.

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