Bhiwani, Haryana: One miner was taken out alive Sunday as rescue operations continued in the Dadam mining zone in Haryana’s Bhiwani district, where a landslide Saturday caused the death of at least four miners.
The operations, which began around 10 am Saturday, soon after the incident took place, continued through the night and the effort is to rescue one more miner who is believed to be trapped under the debris.
The Bhiwani district police confirmed Sunday morning that four bodies were recovered from the spot. Apart from the four deceased, two were rescued (one on Saturday) and both are now in a stable condition. The police said they had confirmation that at least one other person was still trapped.
On Sunday afternoon, teams of National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and State Disaster Response Force (SDRF), which were called in Saturday, conducted strategic blasts on certain portions of the debris to expedite the rescue process.
“We are hopeful that the rescue operations will be concluded by tomorrow morning,” said SP Bhiwani, Ajit Singh Shekhawat, while speaking to reporters at the scene of the incident Sunday.
Meanwhile, a committee has been formed under the district magistrate in Bhiwani to probe irregularities in the mining activities conducted in the Dadam mining zone, as had been alleged by certain politicians earlier, said Shekawat.
‘Debris equivalent to 200 truckfuls’
SP Shekhawat said that of the four deceased, two belonged to the Baganwala village in Dadam, while the other two belonged to Haryana’s Jind district and Bihar respectively.
The bodies of three of the four deceased were transferred to the Civil Hospital in Tosham, the closest town to the site of the incident, where post mortem examinations were conducted Sunday.
Local officials at the spot told ThePrint Saturday night that clearing the rocky chunks of the Dadam hills that had come crashing down due to the landslide could take anywhere between 48-72 hours, if not more.
“The debris is equivalent to 200 trucks. This means that if we decimated the rocks that have fallen, we’d need 200 trucks to ferry them out and clear the area,” said an official of the NDRF who did not want to be named.
In Baganwala village, part of the Dadam mining zone, to which two of the deceased belonged, the villagers held a panchayat and a community discussion to decide whether or not to file an official complaint against Goverdhan Mines & Minerals, to which the mining area has been leased and which operates the mines.
The villagers refused to speak to the media until they came to a decision, but a village elder named Satbir Singh said that he had filed a complaint with the district magistrate’s office as recently as 28 December, saying that proper safety measures were not being taken while mining operations were being conducted at night.
‘Mines operated at night during ban’
“We told the administration that mining operations were on at night, even though the mines didn’t have permission to operate (due to a National Green Tribunal order), but nothing much happened. They would conduct most of their work at night and very little in the morning when the ban was on,” said Satbir, before villagers spotted him and stopped him from speaking further.
The NGT had put a stop to mining activities in the Dadam zone for the last two months in order to curb high pollution levels. Mining had resumed Friday, after the ban was lifted the previous day.
Like in Baganwala, the fear of administrative tangle amid a general confusion was palpable at the Civil Hospital in Tosham, where miners who belonged to the village of the deceased from Bihar had gathered Sunday morning.
One of them told ThePrint that the deceased was named Toofan Sharma and hailed from Kathia in Bihar’s Madhubani district. District authorities in Bhiwani are yet to confirm the names of the deceased.
“He was about 27-28 years old and has a young wife, a year-old daughter and an elderly mother back in the village,” said a man who claimed to be Toofan’s neighbour from the village and who also worked in the Dadam mining block.
Toofan, he said, was the third of four brothers. “Many people from our village have come here to work. We get Rs 20,000-22,000 a month and our accommodation is also provided for by the company,” he said.
“Back home, we can only work as daily wage labourers or in the fields, which don’t pay nearly as much”, he added.
When asked if the work conditions in the mines were generally unsafe, he guardedly said that such incidents “happen sometimes”, but refused to speak further.
Goverdhan Mines & dispute over illegal mining
The lease for the Dadam mining zone was given to Goverdhan Mines and Minerals, a company based out of Hisar, Haryana, in 2018 by the Haryana government after an open auction in order to mine stones for road and construction purposes. Mining work had begun in early 2019.
The environmental clearance for the project states that the mining project was an “opencast, mechanised” one spread over an area of 48.87 hectares of government land, right in the middle of the protected Aravalli forest area.
In October 2021, an eight-member joint committee formed by the NGT submitted its report on the Dadam mining zone to the green court. The committee was formed to verify facts presented in a report by an earlier panel in 2020 that was tasked with probing alleged illegal mining activities by Goverdhan Mines and Minerals.
In the 2021 report, the NGT committee concluded that illegal mining had been done in the protected forest area of Dadam hills, part of the Aravallis.
However, unlike the 2020 report, which stated that “unscientific mining” was taking place in the Dadam mines, the new report said that Goverdhan “should continue to conduct scientific mining” based on recommendations by the Department of Mines Safety.
On the ground, though, there continues to be a general dispute on whether or not Goverdhan is sticking to the mining area allotted to it by the government, or also conducting mining activities in the forest area.
“The chunk of rocks that fell on the miners fell from the forested area. We couldn’t do anything about it. Our activities are completely legal,” said Ved Pal Tanwar, CEO of Goverdhan Mines and Minerals, while at the spot on an inspection.
He promised Rs 10 lakh as compensation to each of the deceased and Rs 2 lakh for each of those injured.
(Edited by Saikat Niyogi)