Death toll at India coal mine cave-in climbs to 18

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The number of casualties from a coal mine accident in India has risen to 18, nearly doubling the 10 found dead soon after the Dec. 29 incident.

NDTV reports that two more bodies were recovered on Sunday from the Lalmatia open-pit mine located in the impoverished but coal-rich state of Jharkand. Rescue efforts have been hampered by poor weather including dense fog, along with unstable debris piles.

Around 23 miners and dozens of vehicles were buried when about 250 metres of the Lalmatia open-pit mine collapsed as the workers were heading towards the exit, Thursday evening.

The mine is owned by Eastern Coalfields Limited – a subsidiary of Coal India, the world’s largest coal miner – and operated by Mahalakshi Infracontract Pvt Ltd.

Meanwhile one media outlet is reporting that the disaster could have been prevented and that the government was alerted to the dangers a year earlier.

According to The Hindu, safety concerns raised by activists were dismissed as incorrect, including one complaint that was sent to the Prime Minister’s Office and forwarded to the state’s Director General of Mines Safety (DGMS):

“After detailed inquiry on your complaint, the allegations made by you against the management of Rajmahal OCP (open cast mine) were found incorrect/false, which comes under the purview of Mines Act, 1952,” states the reply from the Director General of Mines Safety, sent on December 1, 2015.

The activist who filed the complaint evidently had photos showing how safety concerns were overlooked “by not maintaining a proper bench while digging deep into the open cast mine. The overburden was dumped in a de-coaled area in huge quantities which led to the collapse,” he told The Hindu.

Indian Express notes that 2016 is shaping up to be an exceptionally dangerous year for mining in India, with a fatality every three days during the first six months.