Rescue, rehab only way out of coal mines fires: minister

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New Delhi, Apr 22 (UNI) Stating that 65 subterranean fires are still raging in the coal belt of Asansol, Jharia and Raniganj in West Bengal and Jharkhand, Minister of State for Coal Santosh Bagodia today said rescue and rehabiltation of people endangered by caving of land and its persistence threat in affected areas is the only solution to the problem caused by unrelenting mining of coal for the last 200 years.

Replying to a calling attention motion by Basudeb Acharia of CPI(M) and Adhir Chowdhury of Congress in the Lok Sabha, the minister said two master plans costing Rs 8,659 crore for Raniganj and Jharia had been prepared, adding funds were no problem implementing the rescue and rehab package. The West Bengal government has given its approval to the master plans, while it was awaited for the last six months from the Jharkhand government, he added.

The minister disclosed that people from more than 90,000 houses in the affected need to be evacuated and resettled. Replying to a supplementary, Mr Bagodia clarified there was no problem in Jharia town but people living in its periphery faced threat of subsidence of land. But people living in Raniganj were endangered and the government was willing to shift all people, he added.

Mr Acharia said 4 to 5 lakh people live in Raniganj and another 5 lakh inhabit Jharia.

To members' queries on stabilising the coal mines by sandstoning corridors in them, the minister said stabilisation is not a permanent solution for endangered people and properties, reiterating evacuation is the only way out. It was because of uncertainty surrounding the efficacy of stabilisation, the 1999 mater plan for implementing in areas covered by Bharat Coking Coal Ltd(BCCL) and Eastern Coalfields Ltd (ECL) were revised in August 2006 following an expert study conducted on the direction of Supreme Court, he added.

Mr Acharia, who had earlier raised the issue through a similar device in September 2007 when it could not be taken up because of adjournment of the House, said in spite of several committees set up by the government to address the issue there is no perceptible action on the ground because of its ''indifferent'' attitude.

Mr Chowdhury, on the other hand, alleged illegal mining continued unabated in the affected areas notwithstanding task forces set up by governments of West Bengal and Jharkhand.

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