Villagers make a desperate attempt to save the victims at CCL’s Kathara washery on Tuesday. Picture by Pankaj Singh
Three coal scavengers — all women in their early fifties — were killed when a slag dump caved in at CCL’s Kathara washery, 60km from Bokaro steel city, on Tuesday morning.
The deceased have been identified Dhana Kumari (51) and Hajra Khatun (52) of Chapargala village in Tenughat and Laxmi Devi (55) of Pithoria village of Petarwar.
Half a dozen others, including four teenagers, had a narrow escape.
The gang had gone looking for coal around 6am, when suddenly a mound of slag collapsed, trapping the three women. An alarm was raised and local villagers managed to pull out Dhan Kumari and Hajra, but not before they had suffocated to death. Fearing police action, they left Laxmi buried and fled.
Police reached the spot past 7am and retrieved the third body. All three corpses were later sent for post-mortem.
Two teenaged girls, who were part of the nine-member gang and witnessed the accident, conceded that the Kathara Colliery was one of their choice targets. They said they had been scavenging for coal at the washery for the past several years.
“Today, we were digging at the base (of the dump) with spades and iron rods to bring out quality coal, which fetches high price in the market. We had not anticipated that the mound would collapse like that,” one of the duo, who identified herself as Razia, said.
The other added that some of them heard the sound of sliding coal and slag on time and managed to escape. “But, the women got trapped. They cried for help. I could not. It all happened too fast,” sobbed the other teen, who called herself Champa.
Deputy commissioner Raj Kamal and SP Kuldeep Dwivedi inspected the accident site. So did Bermo SDO Anita Sahay and DSP Satosh Pathak. An FIR has been lodged at Tenughat police outpost.
SDO Sahay said an inquiry had been ordered.
Police said SP Dwivedi had summoned coal company officials who would be asked to explain why slag was piled up at the spot and what measures had been taken to stop theft.