Illegal coal mining slows amid strict vigil during Lok Sabha polls

Financial Express | Indronil Roychowdhury | April 19, 2019

Mine workers in Sardih, Salanpur, Khaskenda, Neokenda, Pandebswar, Harishpur and Haripur said illegal mining at present has come to a halt and the depots from where the illegal coal are despatched in dumpers have been shut down.

Illegal coal mining has slowed down in the belts of Eastern Coalfields (ECL), with seizures taking place all over India to curb illegal election fundings. ECL is one of the country’s hottest beds for illegal coal mining which take place despite strict vigilance of Coal India (CIL) and the Central Industrial Security Force ( CISF) .

Though there has been frequent incidents of illegal coal mining in the area, the state and central government authories have failed take any effective measure. MM Prathibhan, additional director, vigilance, told FE, the election commission has given special powers to the directorate of revenue intelligence and the directorate of GST intelligence to check the use of black money during elections. All agencies, including the CBI, CID, SFIO, ED, state police and CISF have been alerted to keep a close watch in the mining areas.

Mine workers in Sardih, Salanpur, Khaskenda, Neokenda, Pandebswar, Harishpur and Haripur said illegal mining at present has come to a halt and the depots from where the illegal coal are despatched in dumpers have been shut down.

“Our political masters have asked us to work for the elections right now, for which we are being paid. Monsoon will arrive soon after the elections and so our mining activities will only start after the elections are over,” Kumud Murmu, a mine worker said.

Union minister of state for heavy industries Babul Supriyo, who is contesting from Asansol on a BJP ticket, said the entire constituency is a mining belt and it is known to one and all how illegal mining is carried out under the nose of the police and local administration. This might have stopped for the time being but it would resume soon after the elections are over. “I myself chased a coal loaded truck and seized the keys from the driver and handed over to the police. But the next day the truck was allowed to go escort free,” Supriyo said.

Even if CISF seizes illegal coal loaded trucks, the state police refuse to take them to custody, a CISF official said.

“How can CISF intrude into the area of the state police. Law and order is a state subject,” Supriyo said.

But Bansagopal Chowdhury, a former MP from Asansol, said, had the Centre been sincere enough, illegal mining would have stopped. There have been a number of communications to the home ministry seeking action to stop illegal mining but there has been no communication from the ministry to the home department of the state in this regard.

A former ECL director, while admitting that illegal mining is carried out in the areas under ECL, said this is carried out despite the fact that every operational mine has a GPS fencing system and every truck and rake carrying coal is fitted with GPS so that their movement can be tracked.

According to a mine worker, illegal mining is carried out by the banks of the river beyond the 60 meters barrier against the highest flood level. Pits are dug absolutely near the banks and even tunnels are created up to deep seams to get coal. This creates a grave risk of the mines getting flooded, and often mine workers extracting coal illegally are caught in water logs and land slides causing casualties. Such casualties often take place but the police refuse to take them to cognizance, Chowdhury said.

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