As many as 80,000 families living near the Jharia mine in Dhanbad coal belt face relocation. Officials say the coalfield area is, in effect, sitting on a "giant fireball deep inside the earth," after they discovered at least six underground leaks of toxic fumes. Experts fear massive underground explosions followed by subsidence occuring at any moment.
Already more than 500 residents of Bhuiyan Patti basti in the Jharia coal mine area have been forced to live in makeshift tents close to the nearby railway siding. The Coking and Coal Limited (BCCL) authorities, which manages most coal mines in the region, have ordered a complete evacuation of Bhuiyan Patti basti.
The BCCL authorities have begun efforts to douse the underground flames and toxic emissions by filling the leakage points with earth. However, this method could increase the risk of explosion. All mining work in the LUJ pithead of the BCCL's North Tisra project has been suspended for an indefinite period.
"The villagers first spotted the emissions late last month, close to the Bhuiyan Patti basti and around 50 yards from the LUJ pithead. It is the same case with the CT pithead, where reports have come in about toxic fume emissions. It is a very alarming situation and there is always the risk of underground blasts. Efforts are on to douse the flames," a senior BCCL officer said.
On 6 September, 54 miners died in a major underground blast at the Bhatdih colliery in the Jharia coal fields. The incident in the 17th incline of the Nagda section of the mines is one of the country's worst mining disasters. Senior BCCL officials, including Lodna section general manager Mr SP Singh, North Tisra Project official Mr RK Nigam, Ginagora project official Mr M Mullick and BCCL regional safety officer Mr S Ghosh, are on site to take stock of the situation. None of them wish to repeat the mistakes committed before the Bhatdih colliery disaster. In a related development, other senior BCCL officials blame the Centre for what they claim is an indifferent attitude to giving concrete shape to the proposed Jharia Action Plan.
"The issue of rehabilitating more than 80,000 families from the Jharia coal mines area is still pending and all these families face the threat of underground explosions and fire," a senior Eastern Coalfields Ltd official said. He said in a jointly formulated proposal, Central Coalfields Limited (CCL), ECL and the BCCL had earmarked Rs 7,500 crores for the Action Plan.
In addition, he said that a Rs 61-crore pilot project has been initiated but residents have been reluctant to leave their homes. "The Union Cabinet is still to give its clearance to the Action Plan, scheduled to be completed by 2012. Without completion of the Jharia Action Plan, we will be unable to avert major disasters in the future," he said.
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