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A mine of experience underground
H.B.GHOSH

He might be 86 years old, but he’s still active in his field. And he might have asthma, but he’s ever ready to jump down a mineshaft. H.B. Ghose has plumbed the depths of mines for others’ safety for 35 years, and despite the fact that it has caused his breathing trouble, it is a life well lived, he says.

Having graduated with a B.Sc from St Stephen’s College in Delhi in 1938, he went on to Indian School of Mines, Dhanbad, finishing with a specialisation in fire-fighting in coal mines. It was after joining the mine safety unit of the central government that Ghose travelled far and wide saving lives and reducing risk for miners working in hazardous conditions. Becoming director-general of mine safety in 1947 proved the trigger for travel and preventing trouble. Being a part of the rescue station was his point of pride.

He’s been to every mine, be it coal, gold, mica or stone, in every part of the country. Along the way, the chairman of North Bengal Dolomite picked up the skill of being able to identify a gas by its smell. “Gas explosions can be very dangerous. There was one in Asansol that killed 250 miners. Saving those who were alive was a great thing, but bringing out the dead bodies was awful…” he recalls.

Coming up with innovative, yet effective, ways of saving lives was a job requirement. Like passing bidis and food through a pipe to a few miners trapped in an air pocket in a north Bengal mine that was flooded with water. “Now, that method is widely used.” Another time, he put out a fire by using nitrogen gas. “I had told them that there was a lot of volatile gas in that mine. When there was an explosion, I couldn’t rescue anyone. But the mine was saved,” Ghose recollects.

He has been to Russia, USA, Japan, Poland and the UK on government deputations, for training, to learn modern methods and implement them back home. A moment of glory was saving the town of Ranigunge, which ran the risk of subsidence due to empty mines underground. “We injected sand and water to fill up the mines, which had been evacuated, to shore up the land. It’s called stowing,” the consultant for Coal India says.

The first chairman-cum-managing director of the Central Mine Planning and Design Institute, in Ranchi, post-retirement, while on oxygen himself, suffering from asthma — a result of years spent dealing with coal dust — once went off to save trapped miners after receiving a distress call. He also did the safety check in the Metro Rail tunnel when it started.

Despite his heart problem, Ghose remains associated with people in the industry, to whom he is often a teacher and instructor, who turn up at his home for help and advice. That is all the recognition he needs.

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