The saying that an accident is an accident means that even if you take all necessary precautions an accident can take place because it is impossible to control everything completely.
So under no circumstances one can rule out an accident.
But there is also another saying which goes like ‘This accident was waiting to happen’. Take the examples of two recent and gruesome tragedies which took place in Meghalaya and Assam and which have shaken our conscience.
The first was the incident of trapped miners in Meghalaya. It happened on December 13, 2018, when 15 miners were trapped in a mine in Ksan in Jaintia Hills district. While five miners managed to escape, rescue efforts for the remaining 15 continues till today.
The miners were trapped inside the coal mine at a depth of around 370 feet (112 meters). The tunnel the miners were in flooded with water after they cut into an adjacent mine which was full of water from the nearby Lytein river.
Think about the situation inside the mine! For us it was scary even to imagine their condition and they were in it, dying inside the cave drowning in water. What an emergency!
And what about the disaster management response of the authorities? It was so slack and slow! The results were as expected. They were all gone. Now there is nothing except the decomposed bodies. I think yesterday also they recovered a few bodies. After sometime this rescue operation will also come to an end. It would have already stopped had it not been monitored by the Supreme Court.
Already slowly and silently the incident has disappeared from the newspapers. First its placing in the newspapers changed, from the headlines it came to sidelines. Then it appeared in a tiny box, just before completely vanishing from the horizon.
I was following it so I know how it disappeared one fine morning altogether and became a Wikipedia item. Thus the story of trapped miners will come to an end. We shall also forget it and our conscience will also be free from any guilt feelings.
But do you know that such mining was banned in Meghalaya ? In 2014, the National Green Tribunal (NGT), a government body that handles environmental issues in India, issued an order banning mining in Meghalaya, specifically banning mining through the ‘rat-hole‘ technique.
However, despite the ban, in subsequent orders following petitions by coal mine owners, the National Green Tribunal and the Supreme Court of India allowed transportation of coal dug prior to the order issued on April 17, 2014. It was further extended to January, 2019 by a Supreme Court order on December 4 last year.
Taking the advantage of the Supreme Court order, the mine owners continued mining operations. Perhaps, we haven’t yet forgotten how two social activists were brutally attacked by the coal mafia while gathering evidence against fresh mining activities in last November.
First thing first, the families of the miners must be compensated adequately and all measures should be taken so that illegal and unauthorized mining is stopped for once and all.
A few months back I was invited to a consultation by an NGO to discuss problems related to tea garden communities. The issues involved with tea industries, tea garden communities and small tea growers as a whole are very vexed. While listening to the deliberations of the representatives of various stakeholders, I felt as if I had fallen into a deep and dark gorge from where there was no way to come out. It was a boring and revulsive experience for me. It was boring because they were discussing the same problems again and again and it was revulsive because they were not able to offer any solution and remedy.
I am remembering that meeting in the context of the worst hooch tragedy of the century Assam has witnessed presently where already more than 160 people have died for consuming illicit liquor. The thing is one should not see this problem in isolation.
Do you know what an eminent poet from the community told me once? He said, “Tea garden workers live such miserable life that there is no joy and charm in their life. Their only entertainment is sex and liquor. Sex multiply their number and liquor finally consumes them.”
After hearing this I remained silent for sometime and my only response was a heavy heave. Alas, it is a trapped community. The question is how to free the community from the trap?
Here the main responsibility lies with the educated and enlightened section of the community. They have to come forward to free the community from its mental bondage.
The community must say no to election time baits and fight for their rights.
Two primary things can uplift the community. These are nothing but health and education.
The hooch tragedy is directly linked to both. At times a single case study can offer serious remedy to a problem.
Who knows if the hooch tragedy is studied and investigated properly it may lead to such issues which may finally offer us many solutions.
Yes, it is a social evil. At some level and point as a society we are all responsible for this. But that doesn’t absolve the government from its responsibilities. No, they are the ones who must be made accountable for such colossal loss of human lives.