Death traps: In Madhya Pradesh, people, cattle perish in mining black holes

Quarrying pits that are left unfenced or unfilled prove deadly for people and animals.

A water-filled mining pit near Khajuraho in Chhatarpur district where two children had drowned earlier this year.
A water-filled mining pit near Khajuraho in Chhatarpur district where two children had drowned earlier this year. (HT Photo)


When two youths recently drowned in a stone quarry, it was the proverbial last straw for the villagers in Madhya Pradesh’s Satna district where such open pits claimed many lives. The angry villagers agreed to cremate the bodies only after a case of “causing death by negligence” was filed against the mine owner, supervisor and two others.

Last month, in one of the biggest crack down against alleged illegal mining, authorities slapped show cause notices with penalty worth ~415 crore against 23 mining lease owners in Gwalior district after they were found to be allegedly carrying out blasting in vast swathes of land to mine grey stones, leaving behind a vast area dotted with pits.

Chequered history

These pits have virtually become mining black holes, claiming many young lives over last few years. In September last year, seven children drowned while bathing in a rain water-filled pit near a stone-crushing site in Guna district. Following the incident, magisterial probe was instituted and a case was lodged for causing “death by negligence” against the lease holder of the stone quarry.

In another incident, three kids drowned last year in a rainwater-filled pit in Sagar district. There have been many such incidents in the past few years as government miserably failed in ensuring closure or fencing of the pits. Most of such mining pits are created wherever there is a large scale mining or excavation for murram (laterite) or gitti (crushed stones) generally for development projects and construction activities.

Due to shortage of staff in the districts, there is poor monitoring and enforcement of mining laws in the state. As a result of which many mining and quarrying pits are left unfenced or unfilled. In rainy season such pits become death traps for the local people and animals.

Sources in the mining department said they have sent a proposal for recruitment of 900 people in the department so that loopholes in monitoring due to paucity of manpower could be plugged.

Even the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has expressed serious concern over deaths in such mining and quarrying pits. A day after the Guna incident last year, the NGT directed chief secretary to issue clear directions to the principal secretary (mines) and district collectors to carry out inspection of all mines in the state, stressing that conditions laid down in environmental clearances clearly say that the entire area should be fenced before starting the mining activity.

The NGT in March last year also directed Union ministry of environment and forests to examine whether the commercial activity of removal of mineral (sand) and other materials after obtaining temporary quarry permit, amounted to mining or not.

Advocate Om Srivastava, a legal expert on environmental issues, who has been dealing with cases related to mining in the NGT central bench, said as per Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) notification 2006 and its subsequent amendments, environmental clearance (EC) is now compulsory for all mining activities and so all lease holders have to ensure closure of the mines.

“Also, there are provisions in MP Minor Mineral Rules which require mine lease holders to go for progressive closure of mines. But children continue to die in mining pits, indicating lot needs to be done to ensure safety. A compensation case has also been filed in the NGT over the drowning of the seven kids in Guna,” he said. Illegal mining and mining mafia violence leave big holes on the mining landscape. The Narmada yatra, which ended in May, also put spotlight back on the mining violations. CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan had to face criticism from the opposition and environmental groups who alleged that illegal mining was rampant in the state. They stressed that the world’s biggest river protection drive cannot go parallel with the illegal mining.

Sources in mineral resources department revealed that 11,031 cases of illegal transportation of minerals have been registered in the state since January 2016, apart from 660 cases of illegal mining. Also, the violence by mining mafia continues unabated. The mining officials are often attacked by mining mafia, especially in Chambal and Bundelkhand, where they have created terror. On several occasions even the police accompanying the officials are attacked. Under such an atmosphere, it becomes more difficult to ensure regular monitoring and effective closure or fencing of mines and quarries.

What does the government say?

VK Austin, director of geology and mining, admitted that there is a problem of pits being left open after quarrying and mining. “Though we regularly issue instructions, especially during rainy season, that all mines should be demarcated and fenced, there are some practical problems in filling the pits. In case of gitti and murram quarrying, if you have to fill their pits, you have to dig up earth from some other spot. So, if you fill one mining pit, another pit will be created. So, the best thing is to ensure all such quarrying pits are fenced and people are cautioned about them by the local officials and mining lease holders,” he said.

Austin said he will again pass strict directions to the officials to ensure such quarrying and mining pits be fenced or filled so that they don’t endanger the lives of people.