Rescue work in progress at the MCL coalmine. Picture by Uttam Kumar Pal
Bhubaneswar, Aug. 10: Nine persons were killed today in a cave-in at a waste coal dump near an open cast mine of Mahanadi Coalfields Ltd (MCL) in Sundargarh district, around 350km from here.
The victims, who were residents of nearby villages, were scavenging for coal in the dump yard at the Kulda open cast mine in Basundhara-Garjanbahal area when, loosened by overnight rain, it sunk.
Around 30 persons were present at the site when the mishap occurred around 10am. “There were some women among them, but I can’t say how many. The bodies are being shifted,” said Sundargarh police chief Sanjeev Arora.
With rescue work still on and many more trapped in the debris, the death toll is likely to rise.
Chief minister Naveen Patnaik has ordered an inquiry into the incident and announced an ex gratia of Rs 2 lakh each to the next of kin of those killed.
The MCL management, too, announced a compensation of Rs 3 lakh to the kin of the deceased
Sundargarh MLA Jogesh Singh, however, demanded compensation of Rs 25 lakh each for the families of those killed. He threatened to halt operations of the company if his demand was not met.
The police chief, who was supervising the rescue operations, said there were 15 to 20 people at the coal-dumping site when it caved in. Three excavators have been pressed into service in the rescue operation.
However, eyewitnesses put the number at 30. Sandeep Patel, an eyewitness, said: “Around 30 of us, including five to seven girls, were collecting coal when the dump caved in. I was lucky to escape.”
The victims, who are yet to be identified by name, hailed from Bolinga, Sarghipalli and Garjanbahal villages located on the outskirts of Kulda open cast mine, which is about 40km from Sundargarh town.
Public relations officer of the coal major Dikken Mehera said if needed, they would shift the injured to a private hospital in Bhubaneswar.
While making it clear that none of the victims were employees of MCL, Mehera said tragedy struck when some “trespassers” were picking coal from the overburden dumped in the “prohibited” area near the mine.
He said explosives were used to loosen the earth before mining and, in the process, the top soil made up of rocks and a layer of low-grade coal came out. This waste, called overburden in the mining lingo, is dumped near the mine.
The officer said people from nearby villages used to regularly sneak into the area looking for coal.
“We have posted guards there who regularly chase them away. But they still sneak in to collect coal,” said Mehera. Once the rescue operation is over, MCL might conduct an inquiry into the mishap, he said.