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On November 2011, a meeting of Bankura district task force took place at the circuit house, with the chief mining officer claiming “no information” of illegal mining. Five years later, at least four are dead, reportedly after an illegal mine collapsed at Kalikapur village of Mejhia block. Workers of the mine claim scores are trapped inside.
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According to local residents, the exact number of those trapped in the mine, which collapsed Thursday night, is unconfirmed. But many claimed that the coal mafia, allegedly backed by the ruling TMC, had cordoned off the area, affecting rescue work.
Three of the dead have been identified as Sheikh Saidul, Sheikh Shaha and Sheikh Riajul and the fourth is yet to be identified, said sources. An official said, “The four bodies have been returned to the families.” Many of the workers in the mine reportedly hailed from Jharkhand, Birbhum district and Khairasol vilage in Bankura.
Nizam Ali, a resident of the village, alleged, “The entire minefield here is illegal and the state government is desperate to cover it up. So, no policeman or government official will talk to you. The entire matter will be hushed up by the mafia.”
Rahul Guha, Directorate General of Mines Safety, said that he had “no specific information” about the case. “The state government and the administration must take action against the illegal miners,” he said. ECL is the only coal operator in Bankura.
Sources said successive state governments have turned a blind eye to illegal mining in Mejhia, which is part of a coalfield spread over four districts of West Bengal.
According to minutes of the 2011 meeting, the chief mining officer had said they had “no information of illegal mining”.
The minutes add that there are “about 50 illegal pits” in Bakulia coal block “which had been left un-allocated by the Ministry of Coal, GOI”. As per the minutes, the mining officer and state administration had asked ECL authorities to fill up these pits. However, since these places were “inaccessible” for heavy earth movers, this had never materialised, officials said.
During the meeting, attended by the BDO, land reforms officer, chief mining officer, an ECL representative and police officers, it was decided that a “task force” would be formed to check illegal mining in Saltora and Mejhia blocks.
Amiya Patra, CPM leader from Bankura, alleged, “Since 2011, TMC has become synonymous with all forms of illegal mining. It is the same here. Locals are afraid to speak up because the mafia will kill them. Police and local media have been paid off. Four people died and their last rites were conducted without any post mortem report.” He said CPM had submitted a deputation in this regard to Bankura SP Sukhendu Hira.
Bankura MLA and Congress leader Shampa Daripa said, “I do not know about the incident. I will look it.”
Despite repeated attempts, the SP didn’t respond.