On 29 December at 7.10 pm, an open cast Rajmahal mining project in the Lal Matia coal mine of the Eastern Coalfields Ltd in Godda, Jharkhand, caved in, burying alive more than 100 mine workers 300 feet below the ground. At least 18 workers are reported killed and a large number continued to be trapped, feared killed.
Just four days ago, this mine had been closed when workers had raised safety concerns. But two days later the CMD RR Mishra came and surveyed the mine and ordered that mining be resumed and the mine work even be expanded. So the project management intensified the mining work. A Director General of Mines Safety officer Rajiv Guha from the ECL’s Kolkata Headquarters visited the mine. He also gave a green signal to the mining work.
On the day of the accident also, a worker had warned at 2 pm itself that there were signs that the mine might cave in. But the Project Manager Pramod Kumar Singh just took an hour for a token safety inspection and then ordered the mining work resumed at 4 pm. News reports also state that workers again raised the alarm at 6 pm but to no avail.
The mining is outsourced to three companies, of which the main one is the Mahalakshmi Company which is notorious for employing only migrant labour, not local labour, and for violating safety regulations. Migrant labour is preferred by them because they are more insecure and it is therefore more difficult to unionise them and organise struggles. Thanks to the efforts of CPI(ML), other Left parties and JMM, an FIR has been lodged against the Project management as well as 4 ECL officers.
A team of CPI(ML) and Coal Mine Workers Union (CMWU) activists visited the accident site on 31 December. CMWU held a protest march and Sankalp Sabha at Lal Matia on 4 January 2017. A protest is planned for 9 January at the ECL HQ demanding that ECL and Mahalakshmi officers be booked for manslaughter an end to outsourcing of coal production. ECL must take over coal production and be directly responsible for safety.