Updated: December 2, 2021 7:53:01 am
They huddled together deep inside the discarded coal mine, crying, taking short naps to ease the distress, drinking leached water filled with tiny particles, and thinking about their families. In a stray moment during those 66 hours, Anadi Singh, one of the four who had got trapped, told himself: “Death is near.”
Then, they felt the first sign of hope — a rush of air from somewhere.
“For two days, we remained at the same spot because we could still hear the stones falling above. We started having stomach cramps due to hunger and lost all sense of time. Then, we felt the air coming in from somewhere, which lifted our hopes… Later, I fell asleep and had a dream in which another exit route appeared. We knew about this route but were not sure before. The next day, we walked for a long time through that route and we were out,” Anadi said.
On Wednesday, local officials and residents of Tilatand village, a mining outpost in Jharkhand’s Bokaro, said they still can’t believe how Anadi Singh (45), Laxman Rajwar (42), Ravana Rajwar (46) and Bharat Singh (45) managed to survive inside the open cast mine from 9 am Friday to 3 am Monday — and emerge near a temple about 3 km from where they had entered.
“All of us cried again and decided we will never indulge in any such activity without offering our prayers to Goddess Kali. She heard our prayers this time,” Anadi said.
The four men emerged from the mine hours before the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) was set to launch a rescue at the entrance that had caved in.
“We had taken four torchlights…. After a day or so, the batteries of two of them got over. We could barely see each other’s faces. We got very scared. At some point, we thought about our children and wondered: did we give them a good future? The situation worsened as we got hungry and thirsty. We asked each other: ‘Our hunger led us to this place, now will it kill us too?’” Rajwar said.
Apart from NDRF, the local administration, police personnel, and officials from the Bharat Coking Coal Limited (BCCL), which owns the mine and had once operated it, were deployed at the spot after Tilatand residents alerted the local police late Friday.
The residents informed officials that the four had illegally entered the mine to get coal “for cooking at home”. Officials said they suspect they may have planned to sell the coal but are not considering any action against the four, who suffered minor bruises while making their way out.
Tilatand has a population of 1,500 and most of the families here depend on rain-fed farming and daily-wage labour for survival.
“Ever since the mines were shut in 2008, we would go there to get fuel for cooking at our homes. We have no choice but to work under NREGS and do odd jobs, but the money is never sufficient. Why do you think we risked our lives?” Anadi said, adding that his family of six receives only 5 kg of rice per head under the National Food Security Act.
“I was also once duped by someone I’d trusted and around Rs 30,000 in wages under the PM Awaas Yojna was never given to me,” he said.
Gautam Rajwar, a lawyer and one of the few local residents to have a “stable profession”, said: “There is no water for irrigation. If the government can help us by constructing a pond, many families can grow more crops. People don’t want to take NREGS jobs as payments are never smooth. Many travel 30 km or more to work in other coal mines for daily wages.”
Rama Ravidas, Circle Officer, Chandankyari block, said: “All the government services are reaching the village. Recently, we held a lot of camps in the area and enrolled many beneficiaries in several schemes.”
Sub-Inspector Subodh Kumar, the in-charge at Adilabad outpost, which logged the first distress call from the village, said: “We received information that a part of a coal mine, which is owned by the BCCL and is not operational since 2008, has caved in. It is very unsafe but some people go anyway. The administration and BCCL’s team could not find a way to extract them and the NDRF was called on Sunday evening.”
NDRF Team Commander Vikram Rathore said: “We could not do anything on Sunday and decided that we will start on Monday morning. But in the morning, I received information that the four people who had gone in had come out.”
Asked about the level of danger the four villagers had been in, Rathore said: “Imagine that a 14-floor building had collapsed. It was the same situation.”
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