A part of the Brindabanpur Colliery belches smoke due to an underground fire at Nirsa near Dhanbad on Wednesday. Picture by Gautam Dey
Flames jumped out of an abandoned coal mine at Nirsa, about 35km from Dhanbad, spewing carbon monoxide across the area and forcing the Eastern Coalfields management to evacuate more than 100 local families and another 650 workers of a nearby colliery around 7am on Wednesday.
The smoke-filled site of the fire, caused by unregulated mining over decades, is perilously close — less than 50 metres — from NH-2 that connects Delhi to Calcutta and about 100 metres from the Grand Chord section of the railways.
Woken up by noise of the explosions, local residents rushed to the Brindabanpur Colliery, the abandoned ECL mine in the Shashanbedia area of Nirsa.
They alerted ECL’s Mugma area management, which sent security men soon after. Area GM P.K. Singh, who reached the spot around 9.30am, inspected the fire site and immediately ordered the evacuation of around 650 workers who were on duty at ECL’s adjoining Lakshmi Mata Colliery.
Accompanied by a host of officers, including assistant GM P.R. Mittal, Singh then ordered the immediate closure of the Brindabanpur Colliery gallery that had been spewing fire and gas since morning.
“We are filling up the abandoned mine site with ash on a war footing. The entire site is likely to be filled within two to three days,” Singh said.
Later, an ECL safety team from Mugma entered the mine to gauge the extent of danger, especially to the other nearby collieries, namely, Shyampur-B, Khudia and Mandman.
Rampravesh, the officer in charge of Nirsa police station, supervised ECL’s filling up operation.
Nirsa MLA Arup Chatterjee held talks with ECL top brass and asked the senior officers to immediately fill up the abandoned colliery and resolve the issue once for all.
Area convener of central industrial trade union Ganesh Dhar was apprehensive. “If immediate steps are not taken, the lives of hundreds of local people will be in danger,” he warned.
Dhar said the underground fire had been raging for decades, but no serious attention was being paid to resolve the issue. “Illegal mining, carried out by some local groups, creates new openings in abandoned mines, which creates oxygen supply that feeds and aggravates the underground fire,” he explained.
Mugma area GM Singh claimed ECL had initiated work to fill up the abandoned mine some time back, but illegal miners had thwarted their efforts. “We had to stall our operation because of vested interests. We now request everyone to cooperate with us. We are ready to develop the area into a park once the mine is properly sealed,” Singh said.
On the menace of illegal mining, he threw up his hands in despair. “Illegal mining is an all pervasive problem in Mugma. You fill up one abandoned site and you will find a new illegal mining site the very next day,” he said.