Date of the Accident – 9.8.1975
Owner– Bharat Coking Coal Ltd.
Number of persons killed – 11
Place – Jharia Coalfield
A roof fall occurred during loading of coal in a depillaring district in IX seam in which 11 persons were killed; one loader received serious injury while another got a minor injury.
IX seam, about 5 m thick and dipping at I in 6, had been developed along the floor on bord & pillar system with square pillars, 15 m centre to centre, and rectangular galleries, 3.6 m wide and 2.4 m high. Extraction of the pillars was done by stooking, dividing each pillar into 4 stooks. The heightening of galleries and splits was done in two stages. In the first stage, they were heightened upto 3.9 m and in the second stage, upto the roof of the seam which was 4.6 to 5 m high. The stooks were extracted in the full section. The Systematic Timbering Rules provided for props at 1.2 m interval and cogs at 2.4 m interval in the area under actual extraction. Galleries and splits were to be supported by two rows of props set at 1.2 m interval and a cog at every junction of galleries.
At the place of the accident, the gallery had been heightened upto the roof and extraction of a stook had been started. 16 shotholes were blasted in the corner of the stook and immediately after the blasting operation was completed, 22 loaders were engaged to load the coal. The first lot of 7 tubs was loaded and a fresh supply of 9 empty tubs was provided. When these tubs were being loaded, a mass of sandstone roof measuring 10m X 7 m (area =70 m2) and 15 to 30 cm thick fell at the junction of roadways adjoining the stook under extraction from a height of about 4.6 m. 9 persons died instantly and 2 more died soon after they were brought out from under the debris. One loader received-serious injury and another one escaped with minor injury. The accident occurred because supports were not erected before the loaders were allowed to enter the place. According to the Systematic Timbering Rules, there should have been at least 20 props and 2 cogs under the roof stone which fell down. On examining the evidence given by the different witnesses, it became clear that there was no support at all under the roof that fell except for the possibility of 2 or 3 props at one edge.
The immediate roof was thin, coarse-grained, micaceous sandstone with pebbles and a layer of clayey material. The contact plane was wet. Such a condition would give inadequate cohesion with the roof mass above. Because of the lack of supports, bed separation took place over a period of time and the roof fell en masse by gravity. Failure to test the roof was another lapse which resulted in the tragedy. (In fact, there was no wooden bunton available at the place for testing the roof as required under the regulations).
A day after the accident, the management decided to take disciplinary action against the Assistant Manager, the Overman and the Mining Sirdar. All the three officers were suspended immediately and as a result of the proceedings, one increment of the Assistant Manager was stopped. The Overman and Mining Sirdar were dismissed. There was also a definite intention to proceed departmentally against the shotfirer. Fortunately, for the management, they discovered at that stage that the shotfirer was well over 60 years in age. The management therefore took the easier course of superannuating him. Later, the records produced by DGMS showed that the shotfirer was 69 years of age at the time of the accident and had not been medically examined for years as required under CMR-27 and 28.
From the facts that came to light during the inquiry, the Court had made some very interesting observations which are summarized below:-
1. Management’s attitude to safety
A cat-and-mouse race seems to be going on between the DGMS and the mine management. The DGMS in the role of policemen and prosecutors and the management trying to avoid prosecutions. The management had shown no sign of being anxious to promote safety on its own but was keen to keep up appearance merely of being law-abiding.
The attitude of the management was primarily one of defense against the criticism of possible violation of the safety regulations. Underlying this attitude are the assumptions that all the wisdom in regard to safety matters is contained in the regulations and therefore nothing further needs to be done but to follow them; and the duty of pointing out violations of these regulations lies entirely with the DGMS. These assumptions are not only incorrect and dangerous but are negative in nature. It must be clearly understood that the primary responsibility for safety is that of the mine management. In the event of an accident, the plea that there has been no serious violation of the directives of the inspectorate or that a particular practice has been adopted with the approval of DGMS should not be regarded as sufficient defense. It should be for the management to prove that all possible precautions, whether or not they were required by the DGMS, were taken and that the practices followed were justifiable on their own merit.
2. Reporting of accident to DGMS
The accident was not reported to the DGMS until a little more than two hours after it occurred. The delay in informing DGMS has led to the suspicion that it was motivated, or even if it was not motivated, the delay was taken advantage of to make such changes at the accident site as would give a better impression on DGMS in regard to compliance with the Systematic Timbering Rules. This action was against the spirit of CMR-199.
3. Management structure: Sub-Area manager (SAM) and Agent
A fact which came out very prominently before the Court was a divorce between powers and responsibilities. In the set up that existed, the Colliery Manager was functionally under the SAM (who had been assigned no position under the statute) but statutorily under another individual who had been declared to be the Agent of the mine under the Mines Act. It was difficult to comprehend this distinction between functional and statutory control. It became apparent that the Manager regarded himself to be the immediate subordinate of the SAM and not the Agent. Thus the first information of the accident was conveyed by the Manager, not to the Agent but to the SAM. Perhaps the Manager cannot be blamed for this because the Agent was obviously not regarded to be an officer of any consequence. He did not have a telephone or a car and his residence was a long distance away from the colliery. It became evident that even the decisions of the Agent to ensure compliance with the Mines Act could be vetoed by the SAM on financial grounds. In the circumstances, it is difficult to comprehend why the SAM himself was not designated as the Agent.
4. The Manager
Kessurgarh Colliery has a large number of workings which are well dispersed and it is physically difficult, if not impossible, for the Manager to visit all the workings regularly. The duty of an officer at this level is to ensure that there is a good reporting system which would keep him in touch with what is going on in the different workings. It is also his duty to scrutinize these reports, pass necessary orders and to make sure that his orders are carried out by his subordinates. This is the primary function of a Manager and in this the Kessurgarh manager failed miserably. His own reports of inspections were not only scrapy but do not appear in any paged book. A large number of the reports of the Assistant Manager were not countersigned by the Manager. The Overman’s diary does not carry the countersignature of any superior officer and the Assistant Manager denied having seen any of his reports.
The reporting system in this colliery, to put it mildly, was slipshod and was never utilized for the purpose for which it was meant. Naturally, the Colliery Manager could not keep himself abreast of what was happening in his mine.
5. The Safety Officer
The Safety Officer had been allotted production duties in XIV seam as the Assistant Manager Incharge of that seam was on leave at that time. This was a blatant violation of the law which stipulates that except in an emergency, no other duties should be assigned to the safety officer and whenever other duties are assigned to the safety officer by the manager, a written notice thereof should be sent to the RIM within 3 days of such assignment. If the safety officer had discharged his functions as a safety officer, the lack of timbering under the STR should have come to his notice and should have been reported by him to the higher authorities.
It was admitted by the senior officers of the company that quite often the safety officers were employed on production work. This further shows the management’s feeling of indifference to safety matters. The Court recommended that the safety officer should not be under the administrative control of the manager but should be a part of a separate safety hierarchy. The role of the safety officer should be that of an internal auditor. He should have the right of constructive criticism and this should be his main function.