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.

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Some of the worst decisions made in history

From the boardroom to the battlefield, bad decisions have been a recipe for disaster

On New Year’s Day, 1962, Dick Rowe, the official talent scout for Decca Records, went to office, little realising that this was to become one of the most notorious days in music history. He and producer Mike Smith had to audition bands and decide if any were good enough to be signed on to the record label. At 11:00 am, either Rowe or Smith, history is not sure who, listened a group of 4 boys who had driven for over 10 hours through a snowstorm from Liverpool, play 15 songs. After a long day spent listening to other bands, the Rowe-Smith duo signed on a local group that would be more cost effective. The band they rejected went on to become one of the greatest acts in musical history – The Beatles. However, in 1962, they were allegedly dismissed with the statement “Guitar groups are on the way out”.

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Decca’s decision is a classic example of deciding based on biases and poor information. History is full of examples of poor decisions that have had far reaching and often disastrous consequences.

In the world of business, where decisions are usually made after much analysis, bad decisions have wiped out successful giants. Take the example of Kodak – a company that made a devastating wrong decision despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Everyone knows that Kodak couldn’t survive as digital photography replaced film. What is so ironic that Alanis Morissette could have sung about it, is that the digital camera was first invented by an engineer at Kodak as early as 1975. In 1981, an extensive study commissioned by Kodak showed that digital was likely to replace Kodak’s film camera business in about 10 years. Astonishingly, Kodak did not use this time to capitalise on their invention of digital cameras – rather they focused on making their film cameras even better. In 1996, they released a combined camera – the Advantix, which let users preview their shots digitally to decide which ones to print. Quite understandably, no one wanted to spend on printing when they could view, store and share photos digitally. The Advantix failed, but the company’s unwillingness to shift focus to digital technology continued. Kodak went from a 90% market share in US camera sales in 1976 to less than 10% in 2012, when it filed for bankruptcy. It sold off many of its biggest businesses and patents and is now a shell of its former self.

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Few military blunders are as monumental as Napoleon’s decision to invade Russia. The military genius had conquered most of modern day Europe. However, Britain remained out of his grasp and so, he imposed a trade blockade against the island nation. But the Russia’s Czar Alexander I refused to comply due to its effect on Russian trade. To teach the Russians a lesson, Napolean assembled his Grand Armée – one of the largest forces to ever march on war. Estimates put it between 450,000 to 680,000 soldiers. Napoleon had been so successful because his army could live off the land i.e. forage and scavenge extensively to survive. This was successful in agriculture-rich and densely populated central Europe. The vast, barren lands of Russia were a different story altogether. The Russian army kept retreating further and further inland burning crops, cities and other resources in their wake to keep these from falling into French hands. A game of cat and mouse ensued with the French losing soldiers to disease, starvation and exhaustion. The first standoff between armies was the bloody Battle of Borodino which resulted in almost 70,000 casualties. Seven days later Napoleon marched into a Moscow that was a mere shell, burned and stripped of any supplies. No Russian delegation came to formally surrender. Faced with no provisions, diminished troops and a Russian force that refused to play by the rules, Napolean began the long retreat, back to France. His miseries hadn’t ended - his troops were attacked by fresh Russian forces and had to deal with the onset of an early winter. According to some, only 22,000 French troops made it back to France after the disastrous campaign.

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

When it comes to sports, few long time Indian cricket fans can remember the AustralAsia Cup final of 1986 without wincing. The stakes were extremely high – Pakistan had never won a major cricket tournament, the atmosphere at the Sharjah stadium was electric, the India-Pakistan rivalry at its height. Pakistan had one wicket in hand, with four runs required off one ball. And then the unthinkable happened – Chetan Sharma decided to bowl a Yorker. This is an extremely difficult ball to bowl, many of the best bowlers shy away from it especially in high pressure situations. A badly timed Yorker can morph into a full toss ball that can be easily played by the batsman. For Sharma who was then just 18 years old, this was an ambitious plan that went wrong. The ball emerged as a low full toss which Miandad smashed for a six, taking Pakistan to victory. Almost 30 years later, this ball is still the first thing Chetan Sharma is asked about when anyone meets him.

So, what leads to bad decisions? While these examples show the role of personal biases, inertia, imperfect information and overconfidence, bad advice can also lead to bad decisions. One of the worst things you can do when making an important decision is to make it on instinct or merely on someone’s suggestion, without arming yourself with the right information. That’s why Aegon Life puts the power in your hands, so you have all you need when choosing something as important as life insurance. The Aegon Life portal has enough information to help someone unfamiliar with insurance become an expert. So empower yourself with information today and avoid decisions based on bad advice. For more information on the iDecide campaign, see here.

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