MAC: Mines and Communities

Buried Alive: Man Made Calamity

Published by MAC on 2006-12-10
Source: GT Weekender ()

BURIED ALIVE:MAN-MADE CALAMITY

BY PREETU NAIR & SUSHMA FERNANDES, GT Weekender, Panjim , Goa, India

10th December 2006

Official figures state that six people were buried alive in an enormous landslide at Tollem iron ore mine in Sanguem taluka, in what is being considered to be a man-made disaster. However, villagers claim that the death toll maybe much higher

SANGUEM/ SOUTH GOA/ INDIA: Official figures state that six people were buried alive in an enormous landslide at Tollem iron ore mine in Sanguem taluka, in what is being considered to be a man-made disaster. However, villagers claim that the death toll maybe much higher. The police, who started rescue operations immediately, managed to only remove the body of Gurudas Naik from Collem and a Volvo vehicle from the debris. Majority of the deceased were from Sanguem taluka and were working for contractor Anup Mhatme and Ishwar Shetye at the mining unit as daily wageworkers, earning anything between Rs 75 to 120 per day. The mines had been given as royalty to Radha Timblo

The Sanguem police has registered a case of negligence, under section 304 (A), against the Board of Directors and concerned Managers of the mine. "We have already booked the case and further investigations are on," said Sanguem PI Ramesh Gaonkar.

Though no one knows what triggered the enormous landslide (150 meters high and covering an area of 12,000 sq mts), people working in the mine are blaming the authorities for not taking safety precautions and alleging that the incident occurred due to the negligence of the authorities. However, the workers point out that just last week the Mine had received a safety clearance certificate after the Directorate of Mine Safety, Margao inspected the safety aspects.

As the workers at the mining unit were dispersing for lunch at around 12.50 pm, they heard a deafening sound and saw some of their colleagues and vehicles getting crushed under the massive landslide. They reveal that it happened so fast that those who perished didn't have any time to react.

The others who are said to be buried alive are Sunny Bhandari, Edwin Fernandes, Satish Mirashi and Shashidhar from Karnataka. Besides, around six vehicles - two Volvo, one Tata Hitachi excavator, one wind loader and two tippers - are still buried in the debris along with several innocent souls.

Earthmovers were deployed to extricate the dead and vehicles, but as they couldn't locate the bodies, the Army was called in late in the evening. After examining the spot, the army personnel asked for a map of the area before starting work today (Sunday).

Mine owner Chetan Timblo maintained, "Our Company will take care of the families of those who died", even as tension and anxiety kept mounting in the area. Several villagers confronted Timblo and accused the company of not paying any heed to the employees' safety, while the aggrieved relatives mourned the deaths. SP South Goa, Shekhar Prabhudessai, Secretary Mines Rajiv Yaduvanshi, Sanguem deputy collector PK Velip, Mamlatdar Parag Parsekar were among the officials who visited the site, even as the police force from Quepem, Curchorem and Sanguem was put into action.

Their God is angry!

SANGUEM: Is it God's wrath or merely a human error? Whatever be the answer, the shocked villagers firmly believe that their God is angry with them and cursed them as they had abused an ancient place of worship that lies in the mine. And they have their reasons. Reveals a villager Arun Kudikar, "Our colleague Ulhas Bhandari was dead against starting mining work in the area for he feared God's wrath, but the manager asked him to start work or quit. He started work on Thursday, and yesterday afternoon he saw his young son Sunny buried under the debris caused due to landslide." Another villager Arjun Dessai said, "The area adjacent to the devasam collapsed, while the devasam is intact."

The story among the villagers goes like this: Long ago, there were paddy fields in the area which is now taken up by the mine, and in the fields was the devasam of Naikidev, whom the villagers worshiped. When the mine owners took over the fields, the devasam of Naikidev was shifted to Ugem. However, villagers believe that their God still resides in the mine and were angry when they started disturbing the abode. "We gave in to the mine owner's pressure tactics and had to pay for it with the loss of so many lives," said Kudikar.

'I've not informed my parents about my brother's death'

SANGUEM: Ludovick Fernandes hopefully watches the men at work. His brother Edwin Fernandes has been trapped beneath tons of earth and every single effort to find him has failed. As darkness descends Ludovick gets restless. "I have not informed my parents about my brother's death. They will be shocked and pained," he revealed.

According to him, his cousin Simon D'Costa who was waiting eagerly for the lunch break heard a big sound and saw his brother's vehicle number 5, a Volvo, getting buried under the debris. Edwin was in the vehicle. Unhappy with the rescue operations, Ludovick complained that there was only one earthmoving machine in rescue operation when he arrived at the site at 3 pm. "The rest of the machines came an hour later and the rescue work was delayed. Now they should work faster and ensure that we at least get the body to perform the final rites," he said.

Ludovick said that Edwin should have never come back to Goa to work in the Tollem iron ore mine, but he was happiest when he returned home after working for four years in Madhya Pradesh. Incidentally, police officials at the spot, on condition of anonymity, admitted that it is dangerous to carry on rescue operations, as they feared that any activity in the area would trigger another landslide. "But we didn't want to hurt people's emotions and tried to help in whichever manner possible," they said.

What is really surprising is that though mine owner Chetan Timblo had arrived at the spot, the contractors Anup Mhatme and Ishwar Shetye were nowhere on the scene.

Harichandra Velip has another worry. He is surprised that though his close relative Satish Mirashi is buried inside, the Manager of the mine had claimed that Satish was not present at the site when the incident occurred.

"Satish has got three little daughters and I don't know what to say to his young wife. Will his family be denied compensation because he was a contract labourer or will the owners deny help to them stating that he was not present at the site when the incident occurred?" questioned Velip.

He approached Timblo and pointing an accusing finger at him cried out,"Our relatives are buried inside. What are you doing?" even as other villagers consoled him. Meanwhile, Babi Velip who had filed a petition in the Panjim bench of the Bombay High Court against the mine owners for causing pollution and destroying the fields and wells in the area, said, "I have always maintained that the Mine owners were neglecting the welfare of the workers and now we pay for our owner's mistakes with our lives."

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