Tribunal slams Mukul, NDRF - Govt rapped over coal mine accident

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  • Published 25.01.14

Shillong, Jan. 24: The National Green Tribunal today rapped the Meghalaya government and the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) over their inability to recover the bodies of 15 labourers trapped inside a coal mine at Nangalbibra in South Garo Hills district following a disaster on July 6, 2012.

This observation was made by the tribunal, which had its sitting at Meghalaya High Court here on an application No. 110 (THC) of 2012 on “threat to life arising out of coal mining in South Garo Hills district”.

The case was heard by the tribunal circuit bench, which comprised judicial member M.S. Nambiar and expert member Ranjan Chatterjee, the former Meghalaya chief secretary.

Altogether 30 coal labourers were inside the mine when the incident took place. But 15 miners managed to escape while 15 of them were trapped inside and feared dead.

The missing labourers are yet to be found.

“We are shocked to note that when it is suspected that 15 human beings were inside the mine at that time of mishap and suspected to be dead. There was no serious action to find out whether there was any labour inside the mine at the time of mishap,” the bench said in an order passed today.

It directed the assistant commandant, officer-in-charge of NDRF, to complete the search and submit a final report disclosing whether labourers were inside the mine at the fateful time.

“If the labourers were there and they could not escape, their skeletons should be there in the mine. That should be taken out,” the order said.

The NDRF will have to submit the final report available by the next date of hearing on April 4.

Though the name of all 15 miners trapped inside the mine were not on record, the Meghalaya government, however, could furnish the name of at least six labourers, who were working at the time of the incident, all hailing from Chalashagaya village under Fakirgang police station in Dhubri district, Assam.

The tribunal also directed the Meghalaya government to issue a public notice in newspapers published from Assam in two languages — Assamese and Bengali — that the six labourers feared to be inside the mine at the time of mishap should appear in person if they are alive. In case they were dead, their dependents should appear before the tribunal on April 4 at 10am.

It found that though assistance of the NDRF was obtained, the search was not completed because of the dangerous conditions of the mine and it was stopped to be continued later, leading to delay in the submission of final report.

The tribunal directed the mine contractor to furnish all details of the coal labourers by the next hearing and warned that “any violation would be seriously viewed, warranting stringent action”.

The Meghalaya government told the environmental court that according to a May 20, 2013 order, the district magistrate of South Garo Hills had passed an order under Section 133 of the Code of Criminal Procedure directing all coal mines in the district to stop mining activities with immediate effect, until further orders.

“The order is in force even today,” the government told the tribunal.

The government also said steps had been taken to prevent recurrence of the disaster, including the implementation of Meghalaya mines and minerals policy, which came into force on May 11, 2012.

The case was first initiated by the erstwhile Shillong bench of Gauhati High Court by taking sou moto cognisance of the mining mishap based on reports published in The Telegraph on July 11, 2012 and July 12, 2012.

The respondents in the case include, the state of Meghalaya, director-general of mines safety, ministry of coal, ministry of environment and forest and mine contractor and the nokma (headman), who is the owner of the coal mine.

The Meghalaya government was represented by counsel Ranjan Mukherjee while counsel Saurabh Sharma represented the mine contractor and mineowner in the case.