TURA, Aug 30 – Three coal miners including the owner of the mine died in remote Siju area of South Garo Hills after inhaling toxic fumes while attempting to extract the mineral, a delayed report said.
There is virtually no communication link in the remote jungle area which is on the periphery of the Balpakram National Park.
The tragedy occurred on August 24, at a place called Garogittim, 4 kms from Siju market, but the news began to trickle in only on Monday after two of the miners managed to come out alive and informed the villagers about the mishap.
According to locals, the miners descended over a hundred feet inside the rat hole mine to extract coal but when they failed to return to the surface, the owner, identified as one Nilbal Ch Marak, went in to see what was wrong. He never came out alive as highly toxic sulpher dioxide (SO2) gases inside the mine poisoned their lungs leading to their death.
Out of the five miners who went in only two made it out alive with severe breathing difficulties on account of toxic gas inhalation. The bodies of the deceased have reportedly been abandoned inside the mine due to lack of equipment to safely enter and retrieve them.
The Samrakshan Trust NGO which is working in Siju and Baghmara area for eco-conservation and seeking an end to illegal mining that claims so many lives every year informed that toxic gas inhalation and mine collapse are the prime causes for death of miners.
“They probably entered a used mine which has a strong circulation of toxic fumes and gases because fresh mines do not contain the poisonous gas,” informed Kamal Medhi of Samrakshan Trust.
According to the Trust, it is pertinent for the Meghalaya Government to map all abandoned coal pits to prevent re-entry and re-use which can lead to human tragedy.
Surprisingly, there is no legal status for coal mining in the State since the government is yet to implement the draft mining policy.
In the absence of any legal status, unscientific mining, commonly known as rat hole mining, has mushroomed throughout Nangalbibra-Siju region.
Despite the high risk involved, hundreds of locals and migrant labourers enter the mines everyday in the hope of making it rich from the extraction of coal.
Mining disasters have taken place frequently with the last major catastrophe occurring in 2009 at Rongsa A’we when eight coal miners lost their lives after they unknowingly broke through the wall of an abandoned mine that was filled with several thousand gallons of water drowning them. Their bodies were never retrieved due to the water level and the toxic gas present inside.