At 1:35 pm, on 27 December 1975, an explosion rocked the Chasnala Colliery in Dhanbad, India. The explosion was most likely caused by sparks from equipment igniting a pocket of flammable methane gas. Clouds of coal dust raised by the explosion and accompanying shock wave contribute to these sorts of mine explosions, making the flames self-sustaining. The blast occurred at the joint horizon of pits 1 and 2 in the deep mines of Chasnala colliery that damaged the barrier separating the mine from the water body lying just above the pit. The explosion was so severe that the mine collapsed, and nearly 5Cr gallons of water from a nearby reservoir rushed into the pits at a rate of seven million gallons per minute. Those miners who weren’t killed in the blast now found themselves trapped under debris, or drowned as the water quickly filled the mine.
Pumps were brought in from Poland, Russia and US to drain out water from the inundated mine but to no avail. Ministers from the Centre and state kept camping at Chasnala to expedite rescue operation. But the first dead body could come out only on the 26th day of the accident with the help of Russian pumps. Many bodies were rendered beyond recognition and many of them were identified with the cap-lamp allotted to them for entering the mine. Rescue workers continued their efforts to dig out bodies and survivors. Sadly, there were no survivors, and most of the bodies were never recovered.
The local workers’ union claimed a total death toll of almost 700 people. The government’s official death toll, however, is 372. The Chasnala Colliery’s records were poorly kept, and many bodies were never recovered, so there is no way of knowing how many miners actually perished in the Chasnala Mine Disaster. The India Iron and Steel Company, who owned the Chasnala Colliery, has said that it conformed to international mining standards in the construction and maintenance of the Chasnala Colliery.
The Chasnala Disaster was one of the worst in Indian history. The nationalization of Indian mining since then has contributed to a significant decrease in the incidence of mining accidents in that country. The Chasnala Disaster inspired the 1979 film Kaala Patthar, directed by Yash Chopra.