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Effective Disaster Management in Mines to Boost Mineral Production



        On 29th December 2018, I came across heart breaking news in the media that, the Indian Air Force and Navy have joined the operation to rescue fifteen mine workers trapped since 13th December in a flooded coal mine in Meghalaya. This is an illegal coal mine functioning without any safety measures. This tragedy has made the nation very sad and prompted me to write the article on Effective Disaster Management in Mines.

Mines are the store house of all types of minerals which are essential for our industrial and socio – economic developments. For example, coal produced from the mines, is used mostly for harnessing energy in thermal power plants and reducing minerals for extracting metals like iron & steel, aluminium, copper, nickel etc., from their respective minerals. Minerals like limestone is used for cement production and marbles, stones, sands etc., are mined and used as construction materials for buildings, roads etc. Mining of the minerals either underground or on the surface, is very much hazardous in nature. In the world, the mineral rich countries including India, are facing a lot of disaster problems during mining in different ways. Hundreds of mine workers die every year due to various disastrous situations in the mines in India, particularly in coal and hard rock minings. The disasters can happen through natural phenomena or by human beings during mining operation. The natural disasters may be caused due to flood, earthquake, landslides etc., whereas the manmade ones are mainly due to fire, explosion, inundation, slope failure, subsidence and accidents.

            Fire is caused particularly in the underground coal mines due to presence of methane and also can be due to combustion of coal fines exposed to atmosphere in opencast coal mines. Inundation takes place due to flooding of the mines by surface run-off into the mines workings both above as well as below the ground, and also due to improper design of the mining activities. Subsidence occurs on the top surface of underground mines due to extraction of minerals and thereby leaving voids. The slope failure takes place mostly in opencast mines which is caused due to presence of weak planes along which a large chunk of the sides of an opencast mine slides down. Explosion in the underground mine is caused due to the presence of inflammable gases and also while conducting heavy blasting.

            Due to above mentioned reasons as well as due to natural phenomena like flood, earthquake, erosion, volcanic eruptions etc, a colossal loss of men and materials are taking place every day in the world in different mines. It may be mentioned here that, the disaster in the Benxihu colliery in China which took place on 26th April 1942, claimed 1549 lives. It is the worst mining tragedy in the world. In India, in the past, five horrifying mining accidents took place.  The explosion in Chinakuri colliery at Kulti in West Bengal took place on 19th February 1958, killing 182 people. The explosion of Dhori colliery at Dhanbad coal mine on 28th May 1965, killed 268 miners. The Chasnala coal mine disaster at Dhanbad is another one through explosion which took place on 27th December 1975, killing 372 miners. This explosion led to caving of the roof and then nearly thirty two million litres of water gushed inside drowning over 300 workers.  The New Kenda coal mine disaster in Bihar took place on 25th January 1994, where carbon monoxide was formed inside the pit due to a fire and killed 55 workers. At Gaslitand colliery in Jharia coal field, the water from the river gushed inside the quarry through galleries killing 64 miners on 26th September 1995. A few years back in Odisha, massive slope failure in the chromite mine in Kaliapani area of Sukinda valley and the inundation of Boula Chromite Mine, which took place caused a lot of damage to valuable properties and sufferings to mine workers.

In addition to these, a large number of small and medium scale disasters are taking place in both underground and open cast mines in India particularly   in mineral rich state like Odisha every year and there is no systematic record of these disasters and details regarding the loss of lives and properties. Many illegal minings are taking place in the country without implementing any disaster management programmes under very unsafe conditions. More over, the people living in the locality also suffer greatly due to the mining of minerals, blasting, transport of minerals in open trucks, up gradating the minerals and letting out the impure muddy water in to land and water bodies etc. Due to these activities the land mass, water resources and the air in the region get highly polluted. The mining activities and heavy pollution in the region, cause a lot of sufferings to the people in various types of diseases and they succumb in large numbers prematurely.

            In view of these, it is highly essential to effectively manage the disasters taking place in the mines due to both natural and manmade hazards. These disasters can be prevented or their effect can be greatly minimized by framing effective disaster management plan for the prevention, mitigation and preparedness and strictly implementing these. As the mining activities are quite vulnerable to various disasters, each mine should have a good disaster management plan with mechanisms and experts to implement the plan properly. The programme of implementation should be supervised by concerned experts in the District Disaster Management Cell under the direct supervision of Directorate General of Mines Safety (DGMS), the Ministry of Labour, Government of India, and also the concerned mining authorities in the respective state. In addition, the mine worker should be trained properly and necessary facilities should be provided to them to work safely. All efforts should be made by the State Government to stop illegal mining.

Mineral resources are very vital for our industrial and socio – economic developments. Therefore, it is necessary to mine the minerals.  Through efficient management of the mine disasters, it is possible to harness various types of minerals in required amounts while allowing the mine workers and the people living in the surrounding areas to lead a safe and healthy life.

About Prof. Dr. P. K. Jena

(Former Director General, Council of Scientific & Industrial Research, India) (Former, Planning Board Member, Government of Odisha)

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