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342 killed in PSU mines in four years
By our correspondent  8th Jan 2012

n the last four years, 342 miners across India have lost their lives because of accidents in coal mines operated by public sector undertakings (PSUs). The information was released by the Union Ministry of Coal in a reply to a query in the Lok Sabha recently.

Experts say that non-compliance with safety regulations have led to these deaths. While 2010 was the worst in the past four years in terms of casualties (109), in 2011, 63 deaths were reported from PSU-run mines.

The maximum number of deaths (67) has taken place in the mines operated by the South Eastern Coalfields Limited (SECL in Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, followed by Singareni Collieries Company Limited (SCCL) (54). Western Coal Limited (WCL) comes next with 51 casualties. All these companies are subsidiary companies of Coal India limited (CIL).

Six other companies, Eastern Coal Limited (ECL), Bharat Coal Cooking Limited (BCCL), Central Coalfield Limited (CCL), Northern Coalfield Limited (NCL), Mahanadi Coalfields Limited (MCL) and North-eastern Coalfields Limited (NEC), come under the CIL.

According to Souparno Banerjee of Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), the safety practices in most mines are inadequate, which is causing so many casualties. "Even the health aspect of miners is being neglected which causes casualties in the long term," he said.

In the last four years, statutory enquiries have been initiated against 687 people.

SECL, where most of the deaths have taken place, told this newspaper in a written reply that enhanced safety measures were being implemented in the mines on an ongoing basis. "The company has introduced additional protective appliances against the danger of fire, dust, noise, air pollution and visibility in addition to normal protective measures. Thrust on reduction of deployment in areas of high risk through mechanization is also being followed."

The death of a miner entitles his family to receive compensation, but many say that it is too less considering the perils associated with the job. Till 2008, SCCL paid a total sum of only Rs 19 lakh, including compensation and ex-gratia to families of 5 miners who lost their lives. That comes to less than Rs 4 lakh per man.

Later the ex-gratia was raised from Rs 30,000 to Rs 5.30 lakh in August 2008.

The government attributes the cause of these accidents to multiple reasons including falling of roof, inundation, explosion of fire damp, coal dust explosion, premature collapse of workings, ignition of fire damp, water gas explosion and fire/suffocation by gases being the main killers.

Professor B.K. Kejriwal of the Indian School of Mines, Dhanbad observed that inundations have caused some of the most serious disasters in Indian mines, which include Chasnala mining disaster, where 375 miners drowned in December 1975.

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