six mine labourers died in a recent landslide in Tollem iron ore mine in Goa's Sanguem taluka. Only two bodies have been recovered; the rest remain buried under a heap of mining waste, estimated to be about 150 metres high and covering an area of 12,000 sq m.
Villagers allege that the accident was imminent. "Ore was being mined just below a huge mine reject dumpsite. As it was loose, it caved in and crushed workers underneath," recounts Sada Doifode, a miner working with the Goa-based Timblo Minerals Pvt Ltd, which runs the mine. Other labourers allege that they had brought the problem to the notice of the mine's assistant manager twice, but he ignored the warnings.
Tollem open-cast mine, in the Uguem village panchayat, has been in operation since 1989.In early December, it received a safety certificate from the Directorate General of Mines Safety (dgms) of Goa, when it celebrated mine-safety week. Just a week before the accident, the mine was also inspected by dgms officials.
"But these inspections were just a sham as inspectors never come with any equipment and conduct inspections on phone," alleges Bonney Fernandes, a driver at a mine in Uguem.
But mine manager K D Kulkarni, who was overseeing the rescue operations, says otherwise "I inspected the mine at 1015 am on December 9 and there was no problem. This tragedy was unforeseeable. This year the rains continued till November, loosening the clay, which led to the sudden landslide."
The state has ordered an inquiry to be conducted by the additional collector, north Goa. The company's licence has been suspended till the inquiry is completed. The police have registered a case of negligence against four Timblo officials. Meanwhile, the company has offered Rs 2 lakh each to the families of the deceased workers.
But there are suggestions that the mine should not have got a licence in the first place. "The mine was not supposed to be in operation, as it is within a kilometre radius of the Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary and its lease was revoked by a order of the Supreme Court, November 9, 2005," says Sushant Naik of Nature Protection, a local ngo.
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