Shillong, Dec 7: Five miners were crushed to death when the cables of a crane being used to lower them into a coal pit snapped midway hurling them down the pit in Meghalaya’s East Jaintia Hills district, officials said Saturday.
The incident occurred Friday in the coal mine area at Briwar, about 80 km from Shillong, police said.
“Five migrant coal miners from Assam died at Briwar when cables of a crane snapped midway in the coal pit,” M. K. Dkhar, the district police chief of East Jaintia Hills, told IANS.
The victims were identified as Takeshwar Kumar, Balen Borali, Harkeshaar Boro, Bulu Boro, Kanta Boro.
Though the tragedy occurred Friday morning, the official said, the incident came to light only by evening after miners informed the villagers about the tragedy.
Dkhar said the bodies of the victims were retrieved from the 200 feet deep coal pit and have been sent for post mortem.
“We have registered a case and investigation has began to ascertain the cause of the accident leading to the death of the five miners,” he said.
Meghalaya has a coal reserve of 640 million tonnes. The coal is high in sulphur content and is mostly of sub-bituminous type.
Most of this coal reserve is mined unscientifically by individuals and local communities, due to which the water sources of many rivers, especially in Jaintia Hills district, have turned acidic.
Mining activity in Meghalaya is controlled by the indigenous people of the state who own the land.
The coal is extracted by primitive surface mining method called “rat hole” mining that entails clearing ground vegetation and digging pits ranging from five to 100 sq m to reach the coal seams.
Workers and children go deep into these holes to extract the coal using primitive tools such as pickaxes, shovels and buckets.
Once the coal has been extracted these mines are abandoned and left exposed in several instances in the state. In Cherrapunjee, once famous for its heavy rainfall, environmental abuse has almost reduced the region to a barren landscape.
The region is now pockmarked by abandoned “rat hole” coal mines and barren hills. Similar is the case in other districts of Meghalaya.
The high sulphur, sub-bituminous coal is used primarily for power generation and as a source fuel in cement plants in India and Bangladesh.