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5 migrant workers die in mine mishap

Shillong, Dec. 7: Five migrant labourers from Assam were crushed to death when the SW-hook of the iron rope of a steel box slipped in a coal mine in Meghalaya’s East Jaintia Hills district yesterday.

Police said the incident occurred at Briwar Rasong coal mining area under Saipung police station, 150km from here, at 11.45am.

Quoting preliminary reports, the police said two of the five miners were descending into an approximately 200-foot mine when the iron rope connecting the steel box of a crane-towing coal collapsed as the SW-hook of the iron rope slipped, plunging the duo deep down.

The other three, who were stationed inside the mine, were crushed to death by the steel box, which weighs not less than a tonne.

The mutilated bodies of the five migrant labourers were retrieved and sent for post-mortem to Khliehriat community health centre. Khliehriat, 100km from here, is the district headquarters of East Jaintia Hills.

The five labourers have been identified as Harkeshwar Boro, 35, from Chirang district, and Balen Bharali, 42, Takendwar Kumar, 22, Kanta Boro, 25, and Bulu Boro, 32, from Baksa district.

Although the tragedy occurred yesterday morning, the police received information about it only in the evening when other miners reported the disaster to nearby villagers. A case has been registered and investigations are on.

The incident comes at a time when the coal trading season has just commenced in view of the onset of winter. It continues till April-May.

Incidents such as these are no stranger to Meghalaya where several lives have been lost inside the pitch-dark coal mines of Jaintia hills, West Khasi Hills and Garo hills. Coal is unscientifically mined in the three regions. In the current system of coal mining in these areas, known as the rat-hole method, labourers go underground to extract coal with locally available equipment.

The Meghalaya Mines and Minerals Policy, 2012 states that adoption of modern methods of mining “would increase the safety of workers and reduce accidents”.

Under the policy’s regulatory framework for mine development and mining, a person who seeks granting of mineral concession is required to submit a labour plan duty approved by the labour department, which would include maintenance of health facilities and safety standards.

The policy also stipulates that the state government would seek collaboration of the directorate-general of mines safety for safety in mines. Mine owners will be required to ensure “stringent safety measures” for workers, tracking of miners and utilisation of technology to prevent accidents. However, the policy, which was approved last year, is yet to be implemented.

It is estimated that Meghalaya has coal reserves of around 576.48 million tonnes. The coal bears low ash content and is mainly of sub-bituminous type containing high sulphur.

The deputy commissioners of Baksa, B.C. Barbarua and Chirang, V. Mittal, in Assam told The Telegraph that they were unaware of any such mishap and that nobody had contacted them so far in this regard.