Six persons, including three brothers, died inside a mine after a crane carrying them snapped in Meghalaya’s East Jaintia Hills district on Thursday. The mine owner and the manager are absconding, Meghalaya Police said on Friday.
Relatives of four of the dead men said they had gone to work in coal mines, still illegal in the state, as it is yet to formulate a mining plan and adhere to other conditions set by the Supreme Court.
GK Iangrai, Assistant Inspector General of Police said the police received information on January 21 about “a mishap at a mining place in Sorkari, Deinshalu Village East Jaintia hills district.”
According to him, the police team found six bodies next to the mining area Thursday evening and have been able to identify five of them, all of whom are from Assam.
Another official said four of the dead migrant workers belonged to Karimganj, while a fifth one was from Silchar in Cachar district. The dead bodies were sent to Khliehriat for postmortem.
“It appears to be an abandoned coal mine,” said East Jaintia hills Deputy Commissioner E Kharmalki.
“It seemed that the crane malfunctioned and snapped. The box carrying the six persons plunged into the 100-120-feet deep pit, killing six occupants,” the official said. When police officials arrived at the scene of the mishap later in the evening, most workers at the mine had fled.
“We have detained several locals for questioning,” the police official said, adding that they are looking for the mine owner and the manager, who are absconding as of now.
The official said that the police have invoked sections of The Mines and Mineral (Development and Regulation) (MMDR) Act and the Indian Penal Code.
“The mine may be abandoned or fresh. We don’t know yet. We are investigating that. We have invoked the MMDR Act because the incident happened in a pit,” the second police official said, adding that no coal was found inside the pit or around the mining site.
“It’s possible that they were looking for a fresh coal seam to make the mine functional again,” the police official said.
“The three brothers had gone from the village eight days ago to work at a coal mine,” said Islamuddin Talukdar, gram panchayat president and cousin of Makbul Hussain, Dilwar Hussain and Ali Hussain, the three brothers from Jalalabad village in Karimganj district, who are among those who were killed inside the mine.
“They were cutting stone inside the mine to get to the coal deposit,” said Islamuddin, a former coal mine worker from the same village, whose cousin Jalaluddin is the fourth victim of the accident.
“The mines were lying abandoned for a long time. The poor people from the village had recently gone to work there again after getting in touch with the mine owner,” he said.
Experts say all coal mining is illegal in Meghalaya, since conditions set by the Supreme Court for extraction have not been adhered to yet. The Supreme Court had banned coal mining in Meghalaya in 2014. It lifted the ban conditionally in July 2019.
“Since mining policy has not been formulated and the mine owners have not submitted mining plans, which are to be approved by the state and the central governments, coal mining is illegal,” BP Katakey, former judge of the Gauhati High Court who led a NGT-appointed committee on coal mining in Meghalaya told EastMojo.
“As per the Supreme Court order, they have to follow environmental laws also,” said Katakey who is currently head of a NGT-appointed panel on the Baghjan natural gas well blowout in Assam’s Tinsukia.
At least fifteen miners died inside a coal mine in Ksan Village of East Jaintia Hills district after it got flooded on December 13, 2018. The rescuers have not able to retrieve at least 10 of the dead bodies till date.