Indias illegal coal mines turn into death pits

Indias illegal coal mines turn into death pits

When news of the midnight accident at the main coal pit at Gangtikuli reached the pregnant young wife of miner Pradip Bauri, she feared the worst.

By the time Kasuri Bauri and a boatload of fellow villagers — all with relatives working at the mine — reached the scene nearly two miles down the Damodar River, the illegal mine was completely flooded. Water was gushing through the shaft from an adjacent mine, and the villagers, armed with hand tools, were powerless to stop it.

“He died a painful death because no one will come in to help us in this illegal mine now. It is a wretched life,” said Mrs. Bauri, banging her forehead against the wall of the pit, her grief played out before television cameras a day after the Aug. 1 disaster.

About 150 illegal miners are thought to have died in the pit, but it is doubtful the exact toll will ever be known. The case has brought attention to India’s illegal mines, which are controlled by criminal syndicates.

Stories change

By the time police arrived at the Gangtikuli mine to investigate rumors of a disaster, Mrs. Bauri and others had changed their stories.

Police sources said that when she was asked if her husband was buried at Gangtikuli, she said her husband had no connection with illegal mining and he worked as a porter 220 miles away in Calcutta.

She repeated the same story to this reporter this week, but fellow villagers confirmed what was clear from the grief she showed on TV immediately after the disaster, that her husband was dead. Her brother-in-law also died in the mine, villagers said.

“Political pressure forced us to come to Gangtikuli. But villagers did not report any of their relatives missing here,” said a police officer who attended the scene from the nearest police station.

Habul Bauri, a watchman at the illegal mine, said there were at least 150 persons working in the pit on the night of the flooding, and none escaped.

‘Ordered’ not to tell

The father of another miner said that hours after the accident, the criminal syndicate that ran the mine threatened the villagers not to tell anyone that they had lost family members in the pit.

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