Indian Railways’ chief source of revenue is iron ore followed by coal. Apart from meeting the domestic needs, India exports the red earth from different ports. Several first world countries depend on highly rich Indian iron ore. Even if you fail to notice the heavy ore carrying box type wagon (BOXNHL wagons) freight trains in the east coast, you can imagine the magnitude standing at busy Vishakhapattanam dock, large vessels sailing off loaded with iron ore. And for coal, the trend is just the opposite. India’s coal consumption is highest in two industries, first comes the thermal power plants and followed by steel industries. Highly sulphated Indian coal is unsuitable for power plant use, thus India has to import high quality coal mainly from Australia. But that doesn’t lessen the burden on its own coal mines. Eastern India still witnesses a busy coal movement over iron rails. With all the iron and coal mines around, industrial freight movement in eastern India is quite dense compared to several other parts in India. When several parts of Indian Railways still cry for doubling the tracks, eastern India feels as if quadruple tracks are not sufficient to connect craters with chimneys.
Here goes my experience on ‘black country of India’, which once drew attention of Prince Dwarkanath Tagore who bought over the collieries and Carr and Tagore Co. led the field in 1835.
The story is from Raniganj, a coal rich area in West Bengal has been centre of interest for many parties (not political parties but equally corrupt nevertheless), big industries as customers, groups of miners, local transporters, contractors at railway yards to load freight trains and of course the railways. That’s a fine coordination which we can imagine as a stream of divisive labour. One player’s withdrawal would mean complete collapse of the business. Anyway, lots of people found their bread and butter in this business and some other found ways to make a few (?) extra bucks. Cast coal has to be processed before transporting. Technical term is beneficiation, but in case of coal the broader term is coal preparation and narrower term is coal cleaning. Through this process pure coal is separated from pebbles. Percentage of pure coal present in a certain stock determines the richness of the coal. But that processing takes place much after the casting, with labourers draining all their sweat and contractor paying them off. And after the whole week’s casting, it may turn up that the stock is worthless in terms of percentage of pure coal. At that point separating coal from pebbles would cost more than what the coal would earn. And if somehow you dodge the checking process and transport the stock to the destinations, there is a certain possibility of return of the stock by the customer. But contractors did spend their money, and needed to refill their capital. So trick would be played in cleaning process itself on the already cleaned coal stock.
Pure coal soaks water and becomes several times heavier. So mining contractors intentionally keep the pure stock soaked in water. And when wet coal is loaded for transportation, obviously it makes a huge difference between real weight and logged weight. But once you pass through the weighing process, your responsibility is over; you got paid in accordance to weight. Now dumpers exiting from mines would deposit the stock at railway yard, mountains of such stock waiting to be transported under rough sun. Our stock is being loaded to the BOXNHL wagons, paperwork has been done, and stock moves towards the destination. And during this whole process our stock suffers from dehydration! Finally when customer industry receives the stock, they weigh, they find less than what it should be, concludes that lapses in railway led to loss of volume while transportation. As transporter Indian Railways has to compensate the loss. So railway has to carry double burden.
But how long can one milk cash in such ways? So soon an investigating committee came into existence including members from Coal India Limited along with Railway Board members. They scrutinized the whole process from coal seams till the power-plant chimneys, and discovered that the loss actually occurs in between the coalfield exit gate and the railway yard. So a second time visit to the railway yard was planned. But in India the most classified news moves faster than any wheeled vehicle. So the responsible contractors were made aware of the inspection by some moles. Next day when the investigating team arrived at the railway yard, they discovered one more coal consumer: our holy bovine eating coal happily shaking their horns and waving their tails!
You may wonder how it is possible. Contractors got one molasses supplier to mix his sugary substance with piles of black diamond. Our human eyes and nose may not sense it, but those animals around voluntarily offered for the scam job. And thus it was reported bovine consumed two tones of coal just in front of the investigation team!