Union coal and power minister Piyush Goyal on Tuesday ordered safety audit in all Coal India mines. A detailed investigation is also ordered on the accident at Lalmatia opencast mine under CIL subsidiary Eastern Coalfields (ECL) in Godda district of Jharkhand.

The DGMS will conduct safety audits with experts from Central Institute of Mining and Fuel Research (CIMFR) on board. “We will not leave any stone unturned to ensure safety and may also seek services of reputed consultants,” Goyal said.

18 dead so far

A small mine patch, Lalmatia was operated by a contractor Mahalaxmi Industries. On December 29, a part of the mine where operations were on collapsed, thus burying contractual workers.

Addressing a press conference in the city the minister said that so far 18 dead bodies were recovered from the debris. He did not rule chances of rise in death toll. Coal India has already announced Rs five lakh compensation to each affected family.

According to Goyal, the accident at Lalmatia doesn’t have much precedence in Indian mining history as a huge 600 metre long and 100 metre wide and 35 metre solid strata on which OB (over burden) was once dumped collapsed.

Extraction

OB is soil extracted to expose the coal seams. Normally, the quantity of soil far exceeds the quantity of coal. This is dumped in the mined area (behind the mine face).

To prevent slide, the soil is placed in a particular gradient which is referred as ‘benching’ by the miners.

A year-and-a-half ago, CIL found that the contractor had dumped too heavy a load on the rock and ordered shifting the OB to a safer place. The job was more or less done, when the rock collapsed. Workers engaged in shifting the OB material were buried under 2 million cubic metre debris.

“Accidents are not new in opencast mines. There is precedence OB dump collapse either due to improper benching or due to overload. The striking fact is the rock collapsed after the load was reduced,” a senior CIL official told BusinessLine . Directorate General of Mine Safety (DGMS), conducted an enquiry at Lalmatia a year ago and were satisfied with the measures undertaken by CIL.

Headless for long

Meanwhile sources blame the government for keeping ECL headless for too long, thereby impacting its operational efficiency. The last full-time chairman and managing director of the subsidiary retired on superannuation in May 2015.

Though the Public Enterprises Selection Board (PESB) recommended Subrata Chakravarty, the then Director Technical as the next Chairman, as early as in October 2014; the Centre denied appointment due to some alleged corruption charges against Chakravarty. He was later proved not guilty.

But the company remained headless and was managed by part-time chairmen.

Currently, RR Mishra, the fulltime CMD of Nagpur-based Western Coalfields (also a CIL subsidiary), is handing the responsibility of ECL as “additional charge”.

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