The poor pay the price of development

A coal mine gas explosion leads to the death of over 50 workers in Dhanbad, Bihar, today in 1973. These would be part of a series of disasters in the resource extraction sector
A graphic depiction of the horror of coal mine explosions; Source: Public Domain

A graphic depiction of the horror of coal mine explosions; Source: Public Domain

Building India up required a lot of resources - and a lot of sacrifices. Especially in the resource extraction sector, where rampant exploitation and poor safety standards combined in the 1960s and 1970s to create some of the worst industrial disasters India would ever see, deep down in the mines of Bihar and present-day Jharkhand.

It was on the 19th of March, 1973 that another such incident happened. Coal has a tendency, especially in drier regions, to suspend in the air as coal dust, essentially creating a cloud of fuel waiting to be ignited by some mishap. Or, regions near coal deposits are suspect to gas leaks - including the silent but deadly carbon monoxide, or the much more explosive gases like methane.

Often, flooding also took place, especially in low lying areas, trapping hundreds of miners, fairly doomed to death, without any hope of pumping it out fast enough before they all suffocated. Such was the situation of some of the critical coal mining districts, especially in the coal and population-rich Dhanbad region.

The incident on March 19th was just another one in a series of incidents, where atleast 50 workers were killed in gas explosions inside these mines.

Chilling events were heard around that whole year - in another mine, later, around 700 workers would be trapped due to flooding.

India needed its resources, and yet the technology or labour standards were not evolved. After the private sector debacles of the 1960s, the government had nationalised the mines in the 70s. This did not mean any better treatment of the mine workers, who still faced these immense challenges daily. However, it still had better results than the private sector, which poured next to nothing in the modernisation of its mines. As such, episodes like these serve to illustrate the price countries pay for their rapid development and industrialisation


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