On December 29, 2018, I came across the news that the Indian Air Force and Navy have joined the operation to rescue 15 mine workers trapped since December 13 in a flooded coal mine in Meghalaya. This is an illegal coal mine functioning without any safety measures. This tragedy has made the nation very sad. We must ponder on Effective Disaster Management in Mines.
Mines are a store house of all types of minerals, which are essential for our industrial and socio-economic development. For example, coal produced from the mines, is used mostly for harnessing energy in thermal power plants and reducing minerals for extracting metals like iron and steel, aluminium, copper, nickel etc., from their respective minerals.
Minerals like limestone are used for cement production and marbles. Stones, sand etc. are mined and used as construction material for buildings, roads etc. Mining of minerals either underground or on the surface, is very much hazardous in nature. In the world, mineral rich countries including India are facing a lot of disaster problems during mining in different ways. Hundreds of mine workers die every year due to various disastrous situations in the mines in India, particularly in coal and hard rock mining. Disasters can happen through natural phenomena or by human beings during mining operation. Natural disasters may be caused due to flood, earthquake, landslides etc., whereas manmade ones are mainly due to fire, explosion, inundation, slope failure, subsidence and accidents.
Fire is caused particularly in the underground coal mines due to presence of methane and can also be due to combustion of coal fines exposed to atmosphere in opencast coal mines. Inundation takes place due to flooding of the mines by surface run-off into the mines workings both above as well as below the ground and also due to improper design of the mining activities.
Subsidence occurs on the top surface of underground mines due to extraction of minerals thereby leaving voids. Slope failure takes place mostly in opencast mines, which is caused due to the presence of weak planes along which a large chunk of the sides of an opencast mine slides down. Explosion in the underground mine is caused due to the presence of inflammable gases and also while conducting heavy blasting.
Due to these reasons, as well as due to natural phenomena like flood, earthquake, erosion, volcanic eruptions etc, a colossal loss of men and materials is taking place every day in the world in different mines. It may be mentioned here that the disaster in the Benxihu colliery in China, which took place on April 26, 1942, claimed 1549 lives. It is the worst mining tragedy in the world.
In India, in the past, five horrifying mining accidents took place. The explosion in Chinakuri colliery at Kulti in West Bengal took place on February 19, 1958, killing 182 people. The explosion of Dhori colliery at Dhanbad coal mine on May 28, 1965, killed 268 miners. The Chasnala coal mine disaster at Dhanbad is another explosion, which took place on December 27, 1975, killing 372 miners. This explosion led to caving of the roof and then nearly 32 million litres of water gushed inside drowning over 300 workers. The New Kenda coal mine disaster in Bihar took place on January 25, 1994, where carbon monoxide was formed inside the pit due to a fire and killed 55 workers. At Gaslitand colliery in Jharia coal field, water from the river gushed inside the quarry through galleries killing 64 miners on September 26, 1995. A few years back in Odisha, massive slope failure in the chromite mine in Kaliapani area of Sukinda valley and the inundation of Boula Chromite Mine, caused a lot of damage to valuable property and sufferings to mine workers.
In addition to these, a large number of small and medium scale disasters are taking place in both underground and open cast mines in India particularly in mineral rich states like Odisha every year, and there is no systematic record of these disasters and details regarding the loss of lives and properties. Illegal mining is taking place in the country without implementing any disaster management programmes under very unsafe conditions. Moreover, the people living in the locality also suffer greatly due to the mining of minerals, blasting, transport of minerals in open trucks, up gradating the minerals and letting out the impure muddy water in to land and water bodies etc.
Due to these activities, the land mass, water resources and the air in the region get highly polluted. Mining activities and heavy pollution in the region, cause a lot of suffering to the people and various types of diseases, sometimes fatal.
In view of this, it is essential to effectively manage disasters taking place in the mines due to both natural and manmade hazards. These disasters can be prevented or their effect can be greatly minimized by framing an effective disaster management plan for prevention, mitigation and preparedness and strictly implementing these. As mining activities are quite vulnerable to various disasters, each mine should have a good disaster management plan with mechanisms and experts to implement the plan properly. The programme of implementation should be supervised by concerned experts in the District Disaster Management Cell under the direct supervision of Directorate General of Mines Safety (DGMS), the Ministry of Labour, Government of India, and also the concerned mining authorities in the respective state. In addition, the mine workers should be trained properly and necessary facilities should be provided to them to work safely. All efforts should be made by the State Government to stop illegal mining.
Mineral resources are very vital for our industrial and socio-economic development. Therefore, it is necessary to mine the minerals. Through efficient management of mine disasters, it is possible to harness various types of minerals in required amounts while allowing the mine workers and the people living in the surrounding areas to lead a safe and healthy life.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Odisha Bytes.