The International Steam Pages

Tipong Colliery Production Suspended, November 2008

There are two reports here, the first appeared in the Calcutta Telegraph on 11th November 2008, the second in the Assam Tribune of November 22nd 2008. It doesn't make for good reading.

Mining halts at Ledo

Centre stops underground work after twin mishaps:

Dibrugarh, Nov. 10: The Centre today ordered the closure of all underground mines at Ledo colliery in Assam’s Tinsukia district where two successive accidents last week left three miners dead and over 20 injured.

Ranjit Dutta, the manager (public relations) of the North Eastern Coal Fields (NECF) of Coal India Limited (CIL), confirmed over phone: “All production-related activities have been stopped in all the three underground mines with effect from today.”

The CIL has three underground mines at Ledo, Tipong and Borgolai in Ledo colliery. They are close to each other and are all located in Margherita subdivision of Tinsukia district.

Dutta said the decision was taken “after receiving instructions from the Centre to stop operations under Section 22 of the Mines Act, 1952” and added that “from today, there will be no production-related activity inside the mines until further clearance from the government of India”.

The closure order was issued by the director general of mines safety, Syed Imtiaz Hussain, and the director of mines safety, Rakesh Kulasrestha, who had rushed to Ledo after the first accident on Tuesday. Even as they were probing it, the second mishap occurred in the same mine on Friday.

Sources in the NECF said the decision to close the mines was taken after the visit of a high-level central delegation from the department of mines. The delegates conducted a preliminary inquiry and found “serious anomalies” in the maintenance of the underground mines by the NECF authorities.

A high-level delegation from CIL also visited the mines. It included director (technical) N.C. Jha, executive director (safety) P.K. Chatterjee and chief mining engineer (safety and rescue division) A.K. Nath. Reliable sources in the company said the CIL team has taken the two blast cases “very seriously”.

Dutta said, “Our men will, however, continue maintenance and other repair works within the mines for which we will be following certain criteria. After all the flaws are rectified, the central delegation will visit again. Only after that will we be able to say when the production will be resumed”.

It has been alleged that the NECF authorities did not follow the instructions of the central team and that of the Tinsukia district administration, leading to the second incident on Friday.

“The central delegation had advised after the first accident that a rescue team should go ahead of the workers. However, the NECF authorities, who were desperately trying to project Tuesday’s incident as a mere accident, forced their workers to go inside the mine around 7am. The second incident occurred at 10am and the rescue team arrived at 10.30. This is the way in which the Coal India Limited is providing security to its workers,” veteran trade unionist and CPI leader Ranjan Choudhury alleged.

The three underground mines at Ledo, Tipong and Borgolai have an accumulated workforce of 1,837 permanent labourers. The company also has two open cast mines at Tikak and Tirap. They are operated by private parties.

The NECF’s output last year was 1.12 million tonnes.

This report appeared in the Assam Tribune of November 22nd 2008:

Negligence of safety norms led to coal mine mishap

TINSUKIA, Nov 22 – With the death of M Satyanarayana, Bijoy Shankar Rajbhor and M Nag Raju, who had to be shifted to Kolkata for treatment of about 90% burn injury received by him on November 4 at the Lachit mine of Ledo underground colliery of the North Eastern Coalfields of Coal India Ltd of Tinsukia district, the death toll has risen to five. The 19 workers were working in the 950ft deep mine on the night shift and they were about to finish their shift of duties but unfortunately for the group, the air burst that was created inside the mine suddenly caught fire when it came into contact with the methane gas present in the mine and in no time the fire gushed the entire chambers of the mine giving the labourers no time to escape. On the fateful day itself, Pratul Daimary, who was brought to Digboi Refinery Hospital, died of his injuries. The second victim of fatality was A Pelaaya, who succumbed to his injuries at the Assam Medical College Hospital on November 7 last. The coal mine authority had taken steps to shift five very seriously injured miners from AMCH to Kolkata on November 7. It may be mentioned that out of 18 seriously injured, 9 miners had been shifted to AMCH on the day of accident, i.e., on November 4.

The incident, which has already taken five lives and the casualty is likely to be more as the degree of burns of those sent to Kolkata are very high, had been taken place, according to not only the common people but also to some technical staff of the mine, due to continuous practice of negligence on the part of the management of the company, which is a Central Govt public sector organisation. In addition to other measures of safety, the practice of negligence on the management of the company began from the employment of as less as only 30 workers per shift per mine, where as, it requires about 100 workers per shift per mine. By using less numbers of labourers, the management willfully neglected removal of the waste products of the mining, mostly the loose soil from the pits and heaps of these waste products inside the mine blocks the paths for both miners as well as of the air and other gasses including dangerous and highly inflammable methane gas. The people now blame the management which is practising exploitation of human lives for maximum profits.

Interesting on November 7, that is only after three days of the mishap, another similar type of incident took place just a few yards from the first one of the same mine and in this incident five workers received injuries but luckily for them, this time, there was no methane for burning. However, gushes of air blow with the speed of about 100 km per hour inside the mine, has injured them heavily. It was very strange as to why mining was allowed in the same pit, when three days earlier a major incident took place which took away valuable human lives. When the director of Mine Safety from Dhanbad was present on the site to enquire about the first incident who ultimately ordered to stop mining in all the mines of the colliery.

As per records, these are not the only incidents of these coalfields. In addition to some minor accidents, there was a major incident in 1979 in which 19 workers died in its Borgolai colliery and in another incident at Tipong Colliery nine workers died in the year 1993. But these lessons could not mend the management of the company which prefers monetary profits rather than the human lives.

Sarbananda Sonowal, MP Dibrugarh has demanded that the Central Government should set up a high level enquiry to the entire episode so that the guilty ones could be punished. In the meantime, the Tinsukia district administration too ordered a magisterial enquiry to find out the causes of the incident in which five people died and 16 others injured. Bangsh Gopal Choudhury, Member of Parliament from West Bengal, member of Parliamentary Standing Committee on Mines and Steel and Member of Parliamentary Consultative Committee on Mines have visited Margherita and the site of the incident recently to take the stock of the situation. It may be mentioned also that due to the closures of the three underground mines of the coalfields of Ledo, the future of about 1800 miners has become questionable as there is no hope to reopen the mines for about next six months.

Rob Dickinson