Akshay Kumar is all set to start shooting for Capsule Gill, a biopic on the life of Jaswant Singh Gill. While working as a chief mining engineer, Gill saved the lives of 65 people when a coal mine in Raniganj, West Bengal, was flooded.
The mine was flooded on 13 November 1989 and 220 miners were inside. The incident occurred when someone touched the upper seam of the mine accidentally and water gushed in, according to a report in The Asian Age.
While many workers managed to evacuate the mine in two lifts, 71 miners were trapped as the shafts filled with water. Six people drowned and 65 were trapped.
According to a report in the Asian Age, four teams were formed for the rescue operations. One team came up with an idea to dig a parallel tunnel and join it with the mine. Another team tried to reach the mine through the route from where water was seeping in, but that didn’t work out either.
The team led by Gill came up with the idea of making a steel capsule that could carry one person at a time. The capsule was to be sent through the borewell hole.
In an interview with SBS Punjabi, Gill recalled that the authorities had to drill multiple bore wells to communicate with the miners and send them food and drinking water.
“We drilled another well to send a rescue capsule to pull them out. A 2.5 m tall steel capsule was fabricated on the spot. It was attached to an iron rope and crane to be lowered into the pit. I volunteered to go down for this rescue mission,” Gill told SBS Punjabi.
Gill’s son Dr Sarpreet Singh said that his father got a 22-inch bore drilled at the most likely high point where the miners may have taken shelter.
“His study was perfect as the borehole was connected at the exact point where the trapped miners had assembled. Oxygen was depleting and the roof of the mine was slowly collapsing. All the trapped miners had given up any hope of coming out alive. My father immediately got drilling rigs hired and started the process of making the new borehole at the earliest. The biggest challenge was that the drilling bits had a maximum diameter of eight inches. This was overcome by welding new bits on the older bits, then welding a plate on them, and again welding new bits on the plate to make the bore 22 inches in diameter,” he told World Sikh News.
Gill drew plans for the capsule and sent them to a fabrication factory nearby. The capsule was ready by midnight of 15 November, with a steel rope to be lowered into the bore.
Singh said that two rescue personnel who were to go down in the capsule were not found, and his father volunteered for the mission, despite protests from senior officials. He said he entered the capsule at 2:30 am on 16 November 1989.
“As soon as he opened the front hatch of the capsule, he saw 65 scared faces in front of him with the fear of impending death writ large on their faces. He caught hold of the nearest worker, put him into the capsule, and signalled with a hammer he was carrying for the capsule to be hoisted up. He then turned to the remaining miners and asked if any of them were injured or sick. The first nine tokens were given to those who had injuries and those who had a fever. After 7-8 rounds, when it was apparent that the capsule was functioning smoothly, the manual winch was replaced with a mechanical one. At 8:30 am on 16 November, my father came back to the surface after sending out all the 65 miners to safety,” Singh said.
As he finally stepped out of the capsule, he was greeted with applause. Two years later, he was awarded the Sarvottam Jeevan Raksha Padak by then president Ramaswamy Venkataraman. He has received many accolades after that, including a Lifetime Achievement Award from Coal India.
“You only get one life, you need to make it count…Everything happened so suddenly that no one had the time to think,” Gill told SBS Punjabi.
Gill died on 26 November 2019.
‘Will miner par excellence Jaswant Singh Gill get due recognition by Punjab and Sikhs?’ by Dr Sarpreet Singh for The World Sikh News, Published in September 2021
‘Remembering the bravery of an engineer who saved 64 trapped coal miners’ by Preetinder Grewal for SBS Punjabi, Published on 16 September, 2018
‘Film on the engineer who rescued trapped miners on cards’ by Tanveer Thakur for The Asian Age, Published on 10 June, 2017
Edited by Divya Sethu