Kujju mine in Ramgarh
Ranchi, Aug. 18: The recent Dhanbad scare, in which three persons survived after being stuck for 45 hours inside an abandoned illegal mine in North Layakdih area of Nirsa, turned into a farce as it bared a deadly truth. The prestigious state department of mines and geology is blissfully ignorant of the number of abandoned mines dotting the state.
Once survivors Manoj Kumbhkar, Dilip Kumbhkar and Nayan Kumbhkar climbed out of the inundated mine with help from villagers, the clamour to wash away the very existence of the abandoned site grew strong. Eastern Coalfields Limited management categorically denied any association with it, while the district mining department disclaimed any knowledge of its existence.
What is worse is that in Jharkhand, where mining — legal and illegal — is carried out from across Saranda in West Singhbhum to Dhanbad and Bokaro, the state doesn’t have any record of abandoned mines.
Officials of the department of mines and geology, while admitting to the “difficulty”, pleaded manpower crunch.
“Only when the company or mining agency surrenders the allotted area can it be declared as abandoned for further reclamation, restoration or rehabilitation,” said Bipin Bihari Singh, mines director.
On data, Singh said: “Human resource is so scarce it is difficult to seek regular details from all the firms. Honestly, I don’t think the department will have the details.”
District mining officer of Dhanbad Rajeshwar Rana, when asked by The Telegraph on the number of abandoned mines in the coal hub and the precautions to avert human calamities, confessed he did not know. “It’s difficult to say how many abandoned mines exist,” he said.
Is his office not supposed to keep continuous tabs on mining activities in the district? “No, we do keep track. But the problem is that exact area-wise status of abandoned mines is difficult to give at the moment. Firms (or agencies) engaged in mining activities sometimes keep dilly-dallying about furnishing details. I have to contact CCL, ECL and other firms for details,” he said.
The Indian Bureau of Mines, the country’s nodal agency to approve mining plans, schemes and regulatory activities, lays down clear-cut guidelines for closure, which every lessee must follow once mineral exploration on the permitted area gets over.
In layman language, a firm can’t abandon a site unless it follows rehab procedures.
But in the absence of up-to-date data, it becomes easy to flout procedures.
The Indian Bureau of Mines website lists only seven sites as “abandoned” in Jharkhand — Dhadu (fireclay), Kahalgaon (fireclay), Manduapat (bauxite), Rajbar (fireclay), as well as Shanti No. 2, Shanti U/G and Shanti West (all mica).
Sources in the mines department said the list was drafted before 2003.
Ten years later, neither has any district taken the trouble to tabulate the number of legal and illegal mines that are abandoned, nor has the state arrived at a collective figure.
According to then minister of state (independent charge) for mines Dinsha Patel, who answered a query of JMM’s Lok Sabha MP Kameshwar Baitha in Parliament on August 26, 2011, the total number of working and non-working mines on April 1, 2011, in Jharkhand was 151 and 240, respectively.
“However, there is no separate classification of mines as sick or closed (abandoned). Therefore, the number of workers or people affected is not maintained,” read Patel’s reply then.
An official of the state forest department, who looks into matters of forest clearances or diversion for mining and other activities, said lack of knowledge on the status of existing leasehold areas is also a major ecological concern.
“For example, in Saranda, we object to handing over new areas before the status of existing areas is declared as surrendered or exhausted or abandoned. But companies and mining department don’t say anything in this regard. In this manmade confusion, when the question of fresh leases come up, virgin forest areas are threatened,” said the forester.