When KGF miners were trapped in Chile-like pits

The hardened miners of KGF — which once boasted of the world’s second deepest mines — were huddled around TV sets animatedly discussing the finer aspects of the rescue mission.  As each one of the 33 trapped miners was being brought out, the KGF miners felt a strong bond of empathy and a surge of memories of their own ‘brush with the death.’

Yashwanth Raj, 48, who worked as a foreman in Bharat Gold Mines Ltd before it closed operations in 2001, recalled how about 170 miners trapped underground in the Giffords shaft in 1996 had a providential escape.

Raj said: “One of the two cages (lifts) which carry men and materials got stuck at a depth of 1.30 km, midway to the mine with three miners inside it and 170 miners below the ground at 2.3 km.

“We used a capstain cage (a smaller one), lowering it 100 ft at a time to locate the stuck lift and it took us three days to reach them. The other miners were also rescued through the secondary way in about two-and-a-half days. During the entire period they went without food or water.” In another instance at the New Golkonda shaft, Gunashekaran, another foreman at BGML, recalled, 48 miners were trapped for two days, but all of them were rescued, though some had taken ill due to noxious gases.

Both Raj and Gunashekaran, who had served more than 20 years each as miners, are convinced that the KGF mines were much safer than the Chile mines. “The British engineers who ran our mines had ensured that all the 30 shafts that were being operated were built with secondary ways for rescue in any emergency and they had used the most modern technology with which we felt safe.”

Danger and grit
Jaikumar, a trade union leader fighting to revive the KGF mines, said, “When you go underground, you have to anticipate danger because you are going to hell. But you need that courage.”

In fact, when the Government of India decided in 1999 to close down the KGF mines as being uneconomical, the employees were asked to bring up as much of the expensive equipment as they could.

Raj recalled that because of the winding down operations, the air circulation system had stopped functioning and the temperature inside was very high.“We had to bring up the winders, tracks and drilling machines, and just when we finished work, there was a loud explosion and the shaft came crashing down. We were lucky to survive,” Raj added.

Over the years, the BGML employees had earned a reputation for safety management thanks to their training under the British and their rescue teams were regularly being summoned to mines in Jharkhand, Bihar, Orissa, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. Life has been hard for over 5,000 families ever since the mines were closed down and many of them travel to Bangalore everyday to do some menial jobs.

The latest announcement by the Centre that NALCO would take up revival of the mines has given them a new ray of hope. With gold prices soaring, the prospects could not be better.

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