July 23, 2012 3:05:11 am
While the death of 15 miners in Meghalaya last fortnight after they were trapped in a collapsed mine for seven days brought the conditions in which they worked into the spotlight,figures show that every fifth day,for the past four years,someone has died in Indias public sector coal mines.
Between 2008 and 2011,there have been 399 accidents leading to 322 deaths,with 55 seriously injured,shows data from the Coal Ministry. These include accidents at mines run by state-owned Coal India Ltd (CIL),Neyveli Lignite Corporation and Singareni Collieries.
One of the reasons why the Coal Mines (Nationalisation) Act was enacted in 1973,taking over private sector mines,was their poor safety records. Yet work at public sector mines remains one of the most dangerous professions in the country. Global records are far better. The fatality rate (per day) in the US,for example,for the past five years has been around 0.13.
The Coal Ministry takes comfort from the falling death rate as per the Directorate General of Mines Safety figures. The number of fatal and serious accidents has come down over the past seven years,from 96 to 76 and 1,106 to 484 respectively. This translates into fatality rate of 0.21,down from 0.36 about five years ago.
Lack of investment in coal mines is cited as one of the main reasons for the high casualties. CIL alone was sitting on cash reserves of around Rs 45,000 crore as of March 31.
The major cause of accidents is roof and side collapse. Mishaps during surface transport by heavy machinery in opencast mines,apart from the use of explosives,are other main reasons.
Though employees of state-owned coal firms are governed by the same set of rules as say those of Air India,payout rates in case of accidents are low. The compensation for injuries or death rarely crosses Rs 10 lakh.
For the 399 accidents over the past four years,action has been initiated against 687 persons. With the introduction of mechanisation,personal exposure to risks has considerably reduced and the fatality rate and serious injuries have fallen, a government official said.
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