Durgapur, May 3: Bengal police have filled up an illegal mine in Asansol in such haste to cap an Opposition campaign that six suspected pilferers were trapped inside.
The police had little option but to spring to the rescue today. They plucked the six to safety after four hours of toil and accomplished the unintended mission of drawing attention to the Opposition allegation of a nexus between Trinamul Congress and the coal mafia.
The sealing operation by the police in Jamuria took place yesterday, five days before Asansol votes in one of the most keenly watched contests in Bengal. The battle between the BJP’s Babul Supriya and Trinamul’s Dola Sen has drawn such attention that Narendra Modi is scheduled to campaign there tomorrow.
The police decided to fill up some illegal mines after the CPM launched a high-pitched campaign about the alleged nexus and claimed that the muscle power of the coal lobby was being used by Trinamul to bolster its poll prospects.
After coming to power in 2011, the Trinamul government had initially cracked down hard on illegal mining and had the coal mafia on the run. Several ganglords were arrested.
However, the “compulsions of politics” appeared to have forced the administration to go easy eventually. “A compromise had to be worked out,” a Trinamul leader said today. “After all, the livelihood of around 1.5 lakh voters in the Asansol constituency depends on illegal coal mining.”
The Trinamul leader said that for 34 years the Left had used the coal mafia. “So, it is only natural that we should also benefit from this reserve of resources,” he added.
Bangshagopal Chowdhury, the CPM candidate for the Asansol Lok Sabha seat that goes to polls on May 7, alleged that illegal mining was rampant with the backing of Trinamul. “We had complained to the Election Commission. The police hastily filled up the holes of the illegal mine without verifying whether anybody was trapped inside because they wanted to hush up the fact that illegal mining was rampant here.”
Congress candidate Indrani Mishra echoed Chowdhury. “We all know the nexus between the Trinamul and the coal mafia,” she said.
But Trinamul leader and agriculture minister Maloy Ghatak said: “We have stopped illegal mining in the area. The local CPM is trying to bring back the dirty trade in the area in the wake of elections.”
The six rescued illegal miners have been admitted to hospital. They spent as many as 31 hours inside the pit, kept alive by oxygen pumped in by the rescuers and sustaining themselves on biscuits and water winched down from above.
Over 20 illegal miners had escaped from the police who arrived with an earth-remover around 11.30am on Friday and made announcements over loudhailers that the mine was about to be sealed. Villagers alerted the police at night about the missing persons. The police began the rescue operations today after coordinating with officials of Eastern Coalfields Ltd.
The police said the six would be arrested after they were released from the hospital.