It was 7 pm on Thursday when Baleshwar Mahato decided to take a break from work, minutes before the open-cast coal mine at Paharia Bhodaye here in Jharkhand’s Godda district caved in, killing 14 people and trapping more than 60 workers.
“I was changing clothes when I heard people screaming. I rushed out but everything was enveloped in darkness as power went off. The debris on which we were working suddenly vanished and vehicles operating on it too were missing,” the shocked dumper operator recounted.
But the 55-year-old regrets escaping death. For, he lost his son Kuleshwar (20), also a dumper operator, in the mishap. Kuleshwar continued to work and was trapped in the overburden as it collapsed.
On Saturday afternoon, rescuers retrieved Kuleshwar’s body, leaving Mahato shocked and in inconsolable grief.
“I never thought God would be so cruel to me. He should have taken me but took my son away,” he said, adding that no compensation could reduce his pain.
Relatives of those trapped and fellow workers and even those from Lohandiha village, where Mahato stayed with his son, shared his grief.
However, they were not happy with the slow pace of rescue work—48 hours after the incident. Families of trapped workers feared that the mining companies may not recover the bodies in order to deny them compensation.
Demanding the presence of officials of Eastern Coalfields (ECL) and Mahalaxmi Engineering Company, which had been contracted to operate the mines, the irate crowd gheraoed and assaulted Pramod Kumar, manager of the ECL mines.
“They showed no value for miners’ lives, and now they don’t even want to meet us. We will not allow the officials to leave the site. Live with us and die with us,” said an angry Navnit Singh, leading the gherao. His brother is trapped in the debris.
Kumar, who was held hostage for about four hours, said he did not know why senior officials did not come. “They directed me to come. So I came here today.”
CISF and district police officials intervened and managed to rescue him and take him to safety.
No official was available for comments and there was no official record of how many workers were trapped in the debris.