2021 has begun with 45 lives lost in 4 mining accidents in just a week. We highlight the tragic incidents here as they raise some critical questions about governance and to prevent the avoidable accidents from becoming a new normal.
Karnataka, January 21, 2021
The latest accident occurred in Hunasodu village in Abbalagere taluk of Shivamogga district where a strong blast in a lorry carrying explosive gelatine sticks has killed six people. There is still no exact figure of death toll and cause of explosion is yet unknown. While various media reports have been mentioning death toll varying from 5 to 15, denying these figures[i] six bodies have been recovered so far.
The incident happened around 10:20 pm on January 21 night near an illegal stone quarry in Chief Minister’s (CM) district. The explosives are used in stone mining. Most of the deceased are reported to be mining workers and migrants from Bihar. The administration said there were no regular workers during night hence the death toll is not as high as doing rounds in media.
The impact of blast was so powerful that both vehicles were blown away. The thunder and tremors were felt in 20 km radius areas shaking house walls and shattering window glasses apart from causing cracks in streets, roads and some houses. The impact of explosion was felt even in neighbouring Chikkamagaluru and Davangere districts.
Several Shivamogga residents first mistook it for an earthquake and rushed out of their houses. Earthquake was later ruled out by State Natural Disaster Monitoring Centre and National Centre for Seismology, New Delhi. Officials said that the blast might have created termers at a very shallow depth and it could be less than 1.0 magnitude on Richter scale hence it was not recorded by any seismometer.
The Google Earth images show there are several stone quarries in areas in close human habitation. The sites are in Tunga river basin which flows about 7 km away in south of Shivamogga town.
As per the The Times of India report; “…The truck is believed to have been parked at the time and the labourers were resting. There are nearly 100 quarrying sites[ii] in the vicinity. Police sources said bodies found on the spot were charred beyond recognition and the truck blown to smithereens. Eight bodies have been traced so far….Shivamogga Rural MLA KB Ashok Naik said about a dozen labourers were reportedly travelling in the truck.”
After reports doing rounds about the quarry belonged an agency that supplied ballast to the Railways, South Western Railway has clarified[iii] that the Railways were presently not obtaining ballast from any source in the area.
The Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa has ordered a high level investigation into the explosion. Minister for Rural Development and Panchayat Raj K.S. Eshwarappa, who is also minister in-charge of Shivamogga district, said that the government will take action against illegal stone crusher units and also those into illegal mining. Further the minister said the government had taken action against illegal stone crushers and those into illegal mining.
The victims were reportedly transporting the explosives[iv] meant for mining when the explosion occurred. The News18 has a long thread[v] tracking the incident. Illegal quarrying is common in this region. The quarry unit is found to be ‘SS Stone Crusher’, which spans over 21 acres and is owned by ST Kulkarni. Stone crushing was reportedly being carried out in five acres of this plot, for which license was taken in April 2019 and is valid till 2024. The crushing unit was licensed under Sudhakar’s name. The police have taken two people Sudhakar and Avinash Kulkarni, the son of ST Kulkarni into custody for questioning.
As per another report, the duo had taken the land on lease from Avinash Kulkarni and were involved in the stone crushing business for the past few years. Police said that the duo were history-sheeters[vi] who have criminal charges in various police stations in the district.
The News18 reporter DP Sathis tweeted “Locals claim Gelatines transported for quarrying in a Bolero jeep. 30 minutes before the blast, it was parked outside a crowded restaurant. Fortunately blast took place near the quarry. Some say it was an illegal storeroom for dynamites. They violated every rule.” Some claim that about 50 dynamites exploded one after another.
Quoting CM, The News Minute report mentions that the mining activity was being carried out illegally[vii]. “We have come to know that illegal mining activities were taking place. Action will be taken against those responsible for the incident and also if we find that officials were negligent. There are allegations that some officials knew about the illegal mining but did not take action. If this is true, action will be taken against everyone involved in wrongdoing. My government will also look into stopping the illegal mining activities across the state” CM BS Yediyurappa said.
Sanjeev Kumar, Shivamogga Rural Police Inspector said that the owner of the land, Avinash Kulkarni, is absconding. He said that Avinash had procured the lease for mining for five years and had hired Narasimha and Sudhakar, the contractors, to conduct the mining operations.
Shivamogga police said that as per the Karnataka Minor Mineral Concession Rules, the mining activity must be carried out by contractors who have the license to use explosives. “Avinash had sub-leased the land to Narasimha and Sudhakar. We have reason to believe that Narasimha and Sudhakar (two arrested persons) did not have necessary permissions to carry out the mining operations and did not have the license to procure explosives,” the investigating officer said, while adding that they are investigating where the illegal explosives were procured from.
Many of the mining sites in the area are seen having water; source for which is not known. It must be probed why so many quarries have been functioning closely, whether they are complying with the environmental norms or not and the cumulative impact of stone quarries on the health of local people and environment.
The latest update says local people for long have been protesting[viii] against illegal stone mining there but in vain. As per the report there are more than 50 stone quarries owned by influential people with political back up.
Public representatives accept existence of illegal stone units and the approved ones not adhering to the norms. The local officers acting against illegal activities face pressure from the lobby. The locals want government to legalise the operations and ensure compliance to rules.
The incident has also raised concerns about the safety of Krishnaraja Sagar (KRS) reservoir amid the local people and activist who alleged illegal stone mining happening over 100 places around the dam in which explosive are also used extensively. The Raitha Sangha and Dalit activists have urged the government to ban alleged illegal mining in the area. The pollution has threatened farming and feared it would pose a threat to KRS reservoir.
The follow up by ToI quotes BJP MLC Aynur Manjunath who while pointing out that the blast had occurred at an illegal stone mining site[ix], has accused officials of colluding with owners of many such units. “Corrupt officials are to blame for the tragedy. Politicians are among those involved in this illegal business. CM BS Yediyurappa needs to initiate stringent action against those responsible for the tragedy. I will write to the Prime Minister seeking his intervention,” Manjunath said.
In another update ToI report shares that the newly appointed Mining and Geology Minister Murugesh Rudrappa Nirani after inspecting the blast site said it’s not clear if the explosive substance found at the site was gelatin or some other material but added that a large quantity of explosive[x] was shipped to the site. “Minerals are mined illegally in the state and we’re verifying if the stone quarry was operating illegally,” he said. While three of the dead are migrant workers from AP, two are from Bhadravathi in Shivamogga, officials said.
Latest development in ToI mentions about CM retreating[xi] from his stand and now talking about regularisation of illegal quarries. Another story on this reveals[xii] that there are over 2000 illegal mining sites in the state against the official approval of 750 only. It further raises alarm on mining sites operating close to KRS dam, Manchanabele dam, Banerghatta National Park posing threats. As per this, the situation is more alarming in Western Ghat districts where soil is removed to quarry stones.
West Bengal, January 19, 2021
Nearly 48 hours before the Shivamogga blast, there was a big accident involving transportation of riverbed minerals killing 14 people and injuring 18 others. This incident happened on Jan 19, 2021 night around 9:00 pm on NH 31 near Jaldhaka River Bridge in Mainatali area of Dhupguri some 34 km away from Jalpaiguri district town.
Quoting Jalpaiguri Assistant Superintendent of Police, a report mentions that the boulder-laden truck[xiii] lost control of the vehicle & hit a divider and turned right. The boulders fell on the passengers of the two vehicles coming from the opposite direction. The truck also hit a lorry.
The locals expressed their anger against the administration. Every day many lorries and trucks full of sand, dumpers and stones travel on that road. Many accident took place due to overloading but the locals said that no action was taken by the police.
The Hindu mentions that the accident occurred when the visibility was low due to dense fog. Passengers travelling in several vehicles were caught in the accident when a truck coming in the opposite direction collided head-on[xiv] with a multi-purpose vehicle. A mini van and a car also suffered major damage after being hit by the truck carrying stones. The deceased included 4 children and 6 women. Most of them were on the way to attend a wedding. Among those dead, six belonged to the same family[xv].
Although a family member of the bride was escorting the five vehicles on a bike, three of them drove on to the wrong side of the four-lane road, right into the path of a 10-wheeler that was coming from Dhupguri towards Changrabanda. The first vehicle collided head-on with the truck. The truck driver hit the brakes, but it skidded and overturned. The two other vehicles fell under the truck chassis. The truck’s load of boulders fell on the smaller vehicles.
None of the reports mention whether the truck was ferrying boulders legally or illegally, what is the source of minerals, why it was over loaded and plying on road in traffic hours, ABP Ananda Bangali report has pictures of the accident[xvi] in which the round shaped boulders are seen spilled on the spot. Such boulders are mostly found in rivers, see a video report[xvii] of the accident. Another video report from ABP reveals that dumper’s fitness certificate had expired.
Gujarat, January 18, 2021
One more fatal accident involving sand transportation took place in Surat district of Gujarat killing 15 people including kids on a few hours earlier. All the deceased were from Banswara district of Rajasthan.
The deadly accident happened around mid-night hours on Jan. 18 night/ early hors of Jan 19 near Kosamba village on Kim Madvi NH 48 about 50 km away from Surat. The migrants including women and children had come to Kosamba to build a house and were living in hamlet outside the village along the road.
They were all sleeping when past mid night a sand truck[xviii] ran over 22 people killing 12 on the spot and injuring 8 others of which 3 succumbed to their injuries later in the hospital. Among the dead 8 were women, 6 men and a minor girl.
The truck first collided[xix] with a sugarcane-loaded tractor after which the driver lost control of the vehicle, thus running over the migrant labourers sleeping on the pavement. The victims of the accident hailed from four villages of Kushalgarh block in Banswara district, bordering Gujarat. 6 of the deceased labourers were stated to be members of a single family.
The truck driver was driving at full speed and was under alcohol influence[xxi] at the time of accident. The driver and cleaner also got injuries. Both of them after discharge from hospital and the tractor driver have been arrested.
The TV9 video report in Gujarati stated that the illegal sand mining[xxii] was happening in the area and the truck could be involved in supplying sand illegally. There is not much details on this aspect in media reports. The investigation should look into the source of sand, owner of the truck and violation of rules.
Several labour rights groups have held lapses[xxiii] in government policies responsible for the tragic accident. They highlighted that despite Supreme Court’s 2010 direction, there is sheer deficit of housing for the working poor and they are unable to afford high rentals hence compelled to stay in makeshifts by the roads and in open areas exposing them to such life threatening risks.
Almost a year ago, a school bus carrying 24 students had narrow escape[xxiv] when it was hit by a sand truck coming from opposite direction at the time of blast in a LPG truck in Surat on Jan. 9, 2020.
Karnataka, January 15, 2021
In yet another fatal road accident again involving a sand tipper took away 11 human lives and injured 6 others severely. The incident happened around 7:30 am on Jan. 15 at Itigatti Cross on Pune- Bengaluru NH about 13 km away from Dharwad city, Karnataka.
The Dharwad superintendent of police said that 17 former female students of Davanagere’s Saint Paul Convent School were heading to Goa for a three-day holiday when the mini bus was rammed into[xxv] by sand laden truck. 9 among the dead were women and included a professor at a Davanagere medical college. Police said the minibus was mangled due to the impact of the collision and police took nearly four hours to extricate the bodies and rescue the survivors. The accident disrupted traffic for three hours.
Dharwad Sub-urban Police Inspector said the minibus was crossing the Hubbali-Dharwad bypass, when it collided into the tipper truck as there was not enough room on the road to manoeuvre.
The 32-km Hubballi-Dharwad bypass is a single lane[xxvi] road located along NH 48 between Bengaluru and Pune. Inspector said that the residents of Dharwad had been complaining of the bypass being dangerous as the stretch is narrow and that it was not being used as a one-way. He said that the road widening work had been delayed for the last few months due to differences between the contractors and the government.
The Dharwad Rural Police have registered a case and stated that the sand tipper drove on the next lane in a bid to overtake[xxvii] a vehicle. The accident occurred when the tipper driver, who was allegedly over speeding[xxviii], lost control while trying to overtake another vehicle.
As per police the drivers of both vehicles have also died[xxix]. “According to a preliminary investigation, all 17 women are classmates. They go for a trip every year. This year, they had planned to go to Goa and one among them was a doctor,” police said. In a tweet in Kannada, expressing shock CM said officials had been asked to investigate the cause of the accident and submit a report soon.
The death toll was earlier estimated to be 13. The injured are undergoing treatment and some of them are in critical condition. There is not much information available on the source of sand and whether the tipper was transporting it legally or illegally. This needs to be probed further if authorities are serious to prevent such mishaps.
Uttar Pradesh, December 2, 2020
Even in the last month of 2020, a major accident by sand mining truck killed 8 people in Kaushambi district of Uttar Pradesh. The incident happened around 03:30 am when an over loaded sand truck toppled[xxx] on a SUV car at Deviganj intersection under Kadhadham Kotwali police station. The deceased, including six women were returning from a wedding ceremony.
The driver of the SUV had parked the vehicle on a roadside to inquire the direction when the rear wheel of sand laden truck passing by the spot got punctured[xxxi]. The driver could not manage to control the speed and the truck fell on the parked SUV resulting in the killing of eight persons. A case was registered against the truck driver and owner.
Eyewitnesses said the SUV was found badly crushed[xxxii] when the truck was removed by crane and it was a horrible sight. The bodies were taken out of the vehicle with the help of gas cutters and sent for post mortem. Police said two girls survived as they had stepped down from the SUV. The victims had come from Shahzadpur to Maheshwari Garden, Deviganj.
Other Sand Mining related deaths in January 2021
Apart from the above mentioned accidents, there have been 3 more incidents related to sand mining in which 3 people have been killed.
Uttar Pradesh, January 5, 2021
The first incident is reported from the Hamirpur district where an elderly woman was killed by sand tractor[xxxiii] while a child was injured. The incident happened near the Pandava Guest House in Moudha Kotwali town. The woman Maiky resident of Fatehpur was pillion riding motorcycle along with her grandson Ankit when they were hit by the tractor in which the woman was crushed and his grandson got injured.
Jharkhand, January 8, 2021
A teenager was beaten to death[xxxiv] by sand mafia in Devbandha under Motiya PS in Godda district on January 8 night. The members of sand mafia was mining the sand from the local river which was objected to by the deceased and other members of the family.
The gang members got agitated and attacked the boy Rajkumar (16) and familiy members. While Rajkumar died following the assault, two family members got injured. Villagers said that every night large number of tractors come to the bank of the river of take away the sand which is mined illegally with the support of local administration. The parents of the deceased are poor and physically challenged. Rajkumar was their elder son and was doing odd jobs[xxxv] to support the family along with his studies.
Maharashtra, January 18, 2021
The third incident is from Pune where an in-fighting among sand smuggler[xxxvi] led to exchange of bullets in which one person was killed and another injured. The deceased Swapnil Ranasingh (25) resident of Takli Haji village (on the bank of Ghor river) in Shirur taluka was a noted criminal with several cases against him. He was declared tadipaar and returned there few days back.
The gang was involved in sand smuggling. As per police, sand disputes[xxxvii] and old financial transactions led to the incident on January 18 afternoon. The injured Pappu Gawade was admitted to a hospital in Shirur. The police on January 20 arrested[xxxviii] the two suspects Vijay alias Koytya Govind Shedge (25) and Akash alias Bablu Khandu Mashere (23) hailing from Aamdabad village in Shirur taluka.
|Summary of five big accidents in past two months|
|SN||Date/ time||location||Vehicle||Cause||Deaths/ Injured||Remark|
|1||21.01.21 ~10:30 pm||Hunasodu village, Abbalagere taluk, Shivamogga||Lorry carrying explosive for stone quarrying||Illegal stone mining||6/NA (5 bodies found so far)||2 deceased were migrant from Andhra.|
|2||19.01.21 ~09:00 pm||Near Jaldhaka River Bridge in Mainatali area, NH 34D, Dhupguri, Jalpaiguri||Boulder truck||Over-loading||14/18 (6 women, 6 children, 2 men died)||6 of deceased were from one family.|
|3||18.01.21 ~mid-night||Near Kosamba village, Kim Madvi NH 48, Surat||Sand dumper||Negligence driving||15/7 (8 women, 6 men, 1 minor died)||14 among dead were migrants from Banswara, Rajasthan.|
|4||15.01.21 ~07:30 am||Itigatti cross, NH 48, Dharwad||Sand tipper||Negligence driving||11/6 (9 women 2 men died)||All women including a professor were college friends.|
|5||2.12.20 ~03:30 am||Deviganj crossing, Kaushambi||Sand truck||Negligence driving||8/2 (6 women, 2 children)||All deceased from same village.|
|Other sand mining violence in January 2021|
|6||5.01.21||Near Pandava Guest House, Hamirpur||Sand tractor||Negligence driving||1/1||Elderly woman killed|
|7||8.01.21||Devbandha, Godda district||Sand mafia attack||1/2|
|8||18.01.21||Takli Haji, Shirur taluka, Pune||Gang war in sand smugglers||1/1|
Some Unanswered Questions
The four tragic accidents have unfolded one after other in just one week in first month of New Year in different parts of country. It shows the heavy cost of the unmonitored, unaccounted and uncontrolled mining activities on innocent people in the dark of nights and indicates the gradual intentional negligence becoming inbuilt part of administrative system as deep rooted malaise in overall mining governance.
The explosion in Shivamogga stone mine has not only shocked the citizens but also raised critical questions. The details in the media show it was a disaster waiting to happen as the CM, Mines Minister, elected representatives and local administration all knew and have accepted that there are illegal mines and mining activities going on in close human habitation. The pleas of public made earlier have been ignored, some actions taken by officials were undone by mining lobbies there.
The area is part of CM’s home constituency and he has ordered high level probe into this. But he also took a U turn the next day and said the illegal mines only have to submit an application for license and continue to operate. It again shows that the politicians are happily involved and happy to allow the state of the affairs to continue.
Residents around KRS dam have warned about the lurking danger to safety of dam structure and local people from the similar stone quarries operations close to the dam site where the use of explosive is common.
In the Dharwad accident people do not know who owned the sand tipper and mine from where it was transporting the mineral to which place. Whether the operation was legally approved or not? Why the vehicle was over-speeding in wrong side in morning hours on a known dangerous road? Are not there check posts? Equally important is the question as to why there were not sufficient traffic police on this risky road.
In Dhupgudi case, the foggy weather and wrong driving by victims is attributed as a reason behind the accident but should we not know why the boulder truck was overloaded. Why there is no information on source of mineral, owner of mine, legal processes behind transportation as 9 pm is usually peak traffic hour on national highways. The illegal mining business is still happening with collision of politically influential people. Will the tragic deaths make the ruling dispensation, administration to focus on improving governance?
Similarly, crucial relevant information is missing from the Surat accident. It shows that the government attention, relief is far from reaching the migrant workers who are the maker of the towns, cities but lack proper accommodation forcing them settle around unsafe locations. Will the demise of 15 precious lives bring any change in government approach? Who was the contractor who was employing these labourers? What action will be taken to ensure such tragedies do not repeat?
Are These Fatalities Avoidable?
It’s is shocking that sand and stone mining and trasport related accidents and attacks have killed at least 57 people and injured at least 37 in past 51 days since Dec. 2, 2020. Even in first 21 days of 2021, 49 people have died while 35 were injured. The 4 fatal accidents alone in just one week in this month have taken lives of 46 people and injured 31. Among the deceased in these five major accidents in past two months 31 are women and 9 children.
Clearly, sand, stone mining and transportation related accidents are proving major killer yet these are being treated as normal accidents. From surface, these may appear routine accidents however if investigated sincerely, they may help unearth actual reasons to bring down the death toll which is mostly avoidable.
While basic information behind these tragedies have been covered in national, regional print, electronic media, answers to some critical and relevant questions raised above are largely absent from the narrative.
Similarly, condolences have been expressed right from the Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the concerned state leaders along with announcements of monetary compensation to aggrieved families, there is hardly any contemplation or sign of change to the factors leading to these fatalities on the ground until possibly many more similar or bigger accident taking place. Concerned authorities, judiciary, media and civil society groups in the respective states need to realise that without addressing the root issues, these avoidable fatalities won’t be avoided.
Bhim Singh Rawat (firstname.lastname@example.org)