The mine at Ledo. A Telegraph picture
Dibrugarh, Nov. 10: The Centre today ordered the closure of all underground mines at Ledo colliery in Assam’s Tinsukia district where two successive accidents last week left three miners dead and over 20 injured.
Ranjit Dutta, the manager (public relations) of the North Eastern Coal Fields (NECF) of Coal India Limited (CIL), confirmed over phone: “All production-related activities have been stopped in all the three underground mines with effect from today.”
The CIL has three underground mines at Ledo, Tipong and Borgolai in Ledo colliery. They are close to each other and are all located in Margherita subdivision of Tinsukia district.
Dutta said the decision was taken “after receiving instructions from the Centre to stop operations under Section 22 of the Mines Act, 1952” and added that “from today, there will be no production-related activity inside the mines until further clearance from the government of India”.
The closure order was issued by the director general of mines safety, Syed Imtiaz Hussain, and the director of mines safety, Rakesh Kulasrestha, who had rushed to Ledo after the first accident on Tuesday. Even as they were probing it, the second mishap occurred in the same mine on Friday.
Sources in the NECF said the decision to close the mines was taken after the visit of a high-level central delegation from the department of mines. The delegates conducted a preliminary inquiry and found “serious anomalies” in the maintenance of the underground mines by the NECF authorities.
A high-level delegation from CIL also visited the mines. It included director (technical) N.C. Jha, executive director (safety) P.K. Chatterjee and chief mining engineer (safety and rescue division) A.K. Nath. Reliable sources in the company said the CIL team has taken the two blast cases “very seriously”.
Dutta said, “Our men will, however, continue maintenance and other repair works within the mines for which we will be following certain criteria. After all, the flaws are rectified, the central delegation will visit again. Only after that will we be able to say when the production will be resumed”.
It has been alleged that the NECF authorities did not follow the instructions of the central team and that of the Tinsukia district administration, leading to the second incident on Friday.
“The central delegation had advised after the first accident that a rescue team should go ahead of the workers. However, the NECF authorities, who were desperately trying to project Tuesday’s incident as a mere accident, forced their workers to go inside the mine around 7am. The second incident occurred at 10am and the rescue team arrived at 10.30. This is the way in which the Coal India Limited is providing security to its workers,” veteran trade unionist and CPI leader Ranjan Choudhury alleged.
The three underground mines at Ledo, Tipong and Borgolai have an accumulated workforce of 1,837 permanent labourers. The company also has two open cast mines at Tikak and Tirap. They are operated by private parties.
The NECF’s output last year was 1.12 million tonnes.