Mining disaster

Photos: Nine dead, several others trapped under debris in Jharkhand mine collapse

Coal India Limited officials have set up a high-level committee to enquire into security lapses by the private mining developer.

In one of the worst mining accidents in recent years, at least nine workers have died and several others remain trapped under debris in Eastern Coalfields Limited’s Rajmahal mines in Godda district, Jharkhand. The accident occurred around 7.30 pm on Thursday, when a mound of piled-up earth at the Pahari Bhorya site caved in and the workers were buried under massive amounts of debris.

The mine was an open-cast one. In open-cast mining, large pits are dug to access the coal seam. The excavated earth is piled up on one side of the mine.

More than 20 workers were trapped under 200 feet of debris when the debris removed at the open-cast mine collapsed on Thursday evening. Image Credit: Manob Chowdhury
More than 20 workers were trapped under 200 feet of debris when the debris removed at the open-cast mine collapsed on Thursday evening. Image Credit: Manob Chowdhury

“This overburden dump, a huge landmass that had been dug up earlier and measured over a hundred feet high, collapsed, burying the workers and the machines at the site,” said Varun Varghese, the spokesperson for Eastern Coalfields Limited.

Several workers were feared trapped under the 200 feet of debris on Friday afternoon.

Rescue operations continued through Friday. Image Credit: Manob Chowdhury
Rescue operations continued through Friday. Image Credit: Manob Chowdhury

Arvind Kumar, district collector of Godda, said workers at the mine had put the number of those present at the site when the accident occurred at 22. “Rescue operations are still on. I am unable to independently confirm the number of persons who may still be trapped,” said Kumar, who was supervising the rescue efforts at the site.

Varghese said 10 machines – excavators and dumpers – were at work when the accident took place. One to two workers were assigned per machine. Two dumpers were driven away when the overburden began to slide.

Ten machines – excavators and dumpers – were buried under the debris. Image Credit: Manob Chowdhury
Ten machines – excavators and dumpers – were buried under the debris. Image Credit: Manob Chowdhury

The superintendent of police of Godda, HL Chauhan, told news agencies that rescue operations started at 6 am on Friday. Varghese denied that rescue work was delayed because of fog at the mine site at night. “Rescue operations started late last night itself,” he said. “Two technical directors reached the site at 2 am from West Bengal to monitor the rescue operations.”

Mahalaxmi Infra Contract Pvt Limited, a mining contractor, was carrying out mining operations on behalf of Eastern Coalfields Limited, a subsidiary of Coal India Limited, a public sector company. Mahalaxmi had hired the workers – the majority of whom were migrants – to work as operators on contractual basis at the Pahari Bhorya site.

Coal India Limited had outsourced work to a private mine developer. Image Credits: Manob Chowdhury
Coal India Limited had outsourced work to a private mine developer. Image Credits: Manob Chowdhury

Five of the nine dead have been identified as Nageshwar Kumar, Rajendra Yadav and Harekrishna Yadav, from Bihar; Brajesh Yadav from Uttar Pradesh; Javed Akhtar from Garhwa district in Jharkhand.

Rahul Guha, director general of mine safety at Coal India Limited, said a survey team had reached the site on Friday from Dhanbad. “It is a bench slope failure, comparable to a landslide of debris at the site,” he said. “This was an outsourced patch, where a private mine developer was engaged. We have set up a high level committee to enquire into what caused the accident.”

A senior official with Coal India Limited in Ranchi who declined to be identified said such accidents could happen if the debris, or overburden, lying over the coal seams was not spread out properly. “Open-cast mining requires a right balance to be maintained of the overburden’s slope,” he said. “The material removed to expose the coal must be spread over a sufficiently large base. If this is not done, the slope may be too steep and vertical and creates a risk of collapse such as in this case.”

Experts say such accidents are a result of poor maintenance of the overburden. Image Credit: Manob Chowdhury
Experts say such accidents are a result of poor maintenance of the overburden. Image Credit: Manob Chowdhury

Jharkhand chief minister Raghuvar Das has announced Rs 2 lakh compensation for the families of those killed in the collapse and Rs 25,000 aid to the injured.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

How sustainable farming practices can secure India's food for the future

India is home to 15% of the world’s undernourished population.

Food security is a pressing problem in India and in the world. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), it is estimated that over 190 million people go hungry every day in the country.

Evidence for India’s food challenge can be found in the fact that the yield per hectare of rice, one of India’s principal crops, is 2177 kgs per hectare, lagging behind countries such as China and Brazil that have yield rates of 4263 kgs/hectare and 3265 kgs/hectare respectively. The cereal yield per hectare in the country is also 2,981 kgs per hectare, lagging far behind countries such as China, Japan and the US.

The slow growth of agricultural production in India can be attributed to an inefficient rural transport system, lack of awareness about the treatment of crops, limited access to modern farming technology and the shrinking agricultural land due to urbanization. Add to that, an irregular monsoon and the fact that 63% of agricultural land is dependent on rainfall further increase the difficulties we face.

Despite these odds, there is huge potential for India to increase its agricultural productivity to meet the food requirements of its growing population.

The good news is that experience in India and other countries shows that the adoption of sustainable farming practices can increase both productivity and reduce ecological harm.

Sustainable agriculture techniques enable higher resource efficiency – they help produce greater agricultural output while using lesser land, water and energy, ensuring profitability for the farmer. These essentially include methods that, among other things, protect and enhance the crops and the soil, improve water absorption and use efficient seed treatments. While Indian farmers have traditionally followed these principles, new technology now makes them more effective.

For example, for soil enhancement, certified biodegradable mulch films are now available. A mulch film is a layer of protective material applied to soil to conserve moisture and fertility. Most mulch films used in agriculture today are made of polyethylene (PE), which has the unwanted overhead of disposal. It is a labour intensive and time-consuming process to remove the PE mulch film after usage. If not done, it affects soil quality and hence, crop yield. An independently certified biodegradable mulch film, on the other hand, is directly absorbed by the microorganisms in the soil. It conserves the soil properties, eliminates soil contamination, and saves the labor cost that comes with PE mulch films.

The other perpetual challenge for India’s farms is the availability of water. Many food crops like rice and sugarcane have a high-water requirement. In a country like India, where majority of the agricultural land is rain-fed, low rainfall years can wreak havoc for crops and cause a slew of other problems - a surge in crop prices and a reduction in access to essential food items. Again, Indian farmers have long experience in water conservation that can now be enhanced through technology.

Seeds can now be treated with enhancements that help them improve their root systems. This leads to more efficient water absorption.

In addition to soil and water management, the third big factor, better seed treatment, can also significantly improve crop health and boost productivity. These solutions include application of fungicides and insecticides that protect the seed from unwanted fungi and parasites that can damage crops or hinder growth, and increase productivity.

While sustainable agriculture through soil, water and seed management can increase crop yields, an efficient warehousing and distribution system is also necessary to ensure that the output reaches the consumers. According to a study by CIPHET, Indian government’s harvest-research body, up to 67 million tons of food get wasted every year — a quantity equivalent to that consumed by the entire state of Bihar in a year. Perishables, such as fruits and vegetables, end up rotting in store houses or during transportation due to pests, erratic weather and the lack of modern storage facilities. In fact, simply bringing down food wastage and increasing the efficiency in distribution alone can significantly help improve food security. Innovations such as special tarpaulins, that keep perishables cool during transit, and more efficient insulation solutions can reduce rotting and reduce energy usage in cold storage.

Thus, all three aspects — production, storage, and distribution — need to be optimized if India is to feed its ever-growing population.

One company working to drive increased sustainability down the entire agriculture value chain is BASF. For example, the company offers cutting edge seed treatments that protect crops from disease and provide plant health benefits such as enhanced vitality and better tolerance for stress and cold. In addition, BASF has developed a biodegradable mulch film from its ecovio® bioplastic that is certified compostable – meaning farmers can reap the benefits of better soil without risk of contamination or increased labor costs. These and more of the company’s innovations are helping farmers in India achieve higher and more sustainable yields.

Of course, products are only one part of the solution. The company also recognizes the importance of training farmers in sustainable farming practices and in the safe use of its products. To this end, BASF engaged in a widespread farmer outreach program called Samruddhi from 2007 to 2014. Their ‘Suraksha Hamesha’ (safety always) program reached over 23,000 farmers and 4,000 spray men across India in 2016 alone. In addition to training, the company also offers a ‘Sanrakshan® Kit’ to farmers that includes personal protection tools and equipment. All these efforts serve to spread awareness about the sustainable and responsible use of crop protection products – ensuring that farmers stay safe while producing good quality food.

Interested in learning more about BASF’s work in sustainable agriculture? See here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of BASF and not by the Scroll editorial team.