BCCL decline continues amidst mafia wars and coal fires -1

Updated: March 31, 2017 2:30 PM

The nationalisation of coal mines in 1973 by Indira Gandhi saw two huge negative fall outs. One was the entry of the coal Mafia and illegal mining of coal, and the second was the environmental damage due to open cast mining and raging fires in the Dhanbad and Jharia belt.

It is time to take a relook at Indian mining and increase productivity and reduce the environmental damage due to irresponsible open cast mining in the Jharia belt. (Reuters)

The nationalisation of coal mines in 1973 by Indira Gandhi saw two huge negative fall outs. One was the entry of the coal Mafia and illegal mining of coal, and the second was the environmental damage due to open cast mining and raging fires in the Dhanbad and Jharia belt. It is time to take a relook at Indian mining and increase productivity and reduce the environmental damage due to irresponsible open cast mining in the Jharia belt.

Mr Modi has been attempting to set right faltering institutions and infrastructure across India. BCCL a subsidiary of Coal India which sits on Rs 60,000 crore of premium coal reserves of the nation has been a perennial under performer despite its Mini-Ratna status. With both Jharkand and the Centre under BJP rule, this is an ideal time to rid BCCL of the Coal Mafia and Coal Fires that dog BCCL and infuse operational accountability. DVC a major user of coal in Eastern India complained recently “ Grade slippage was highest in BCCL at 98 per cent, followed by CCL 84 per cent and 61 per cent in MCL for coal sampled in November and December 2016.” Financial Express takes a look at the twenty year decay of a potential money spinner.

Last week the simmering war in the coal belt of Dhanbad erupted once again with the gunning down of Neeraj Singh the Deputy Mayor of Dhanbad, by motorcycle borne assailants. 67 bullets from a AK 47 and a revolver were reportedly fired to kill three of the four occupants of a SUV just 100 yards away from the victims’s home.

The Warring Coal Mafia
Neeraj Singh’s mother Sarojini Singh promptly pointed fingers at the BJP camp alleging “We will take revenge. It was the conspiracy of Sanjeev Singh( The BJP MLA) to kill my son”. Neeraj Singh was the Congress candidate for the Jharia assembly seat who had lost to cousin Sanjeev Singh the sitting MLA of the BJP in 2014, the son and political heir of the late Suryadeo Singh and Kunti Singh. Sanjeev Singh’s driver cum bodyguard was shot dead two months ago, allegedly by goons of Neeraj Singh.

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The clan war goes back to two decades and first hit the headlines in 1996 when Binod Singh a trade union leader and coal trader and his driver was shot dead by his brother Ramadhir Singh now serving life sentence at Hazaribagh jail. The Singh family despite its internal factional war became the dominant force in the Dhanbad Jharia belt in the late eighties. Since then it has been reportedly influencing all BCCL labour, union, tendering, purchase and logistics activities and using its tentacles to drive its parasitical reach into the operations of the Government owned BCCL coal mines. Opened in 1896, the Jharia coal mines is the largest deposit of expensive coking coal that can actually make India self sufficient in high calorific value low ash content coal, if mined efficiently and scientifically.

The Raging Coal Fires
The nationalization of coal mines in 1973 by Indira Gandhi saw two huge negative fall outs. One was the entry of coal Mafia and illegal mining, and the second was the environmental damage due to open cast mining and raging fires in mines. Before 1973 most of the coal mining that was done was underground mining. This was done because the private owners were keen to maximize resource utilization and though underground mining was expensive and hazardous, it was benefitted the owners as it gave a high return per hectare output.

When BCCL took charge the emphasis shifted to increasing output by easy open cast mining, instead of underground mining. By resorting to open cast mining, the Government employees reduced mining risk and cost and hence profits went up. The only problem was that the mining area was limited and soon would be exhausted. Mining started happening in and around Jharai and Dhanbad town, rendering residential areas unlivable due to pollution. Mining fires spread and BCCL allowed them to rage on. It is alleged that this was deliberate for they forced people to evacuate residential areas that were converted to mining zones, and were soon perceived as a possible way to ensure the expansionist footprint of BCCL’s open cast mining. The toll of this expansionist footprint has scarred the heartland of Jharkand like none other, and we shall continue chronicling its effect in the next part of the article.

By- Sandip Sen

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