Jaswant Singh Gill (1939-2019) was an Indian engineer-in-chief who risked his life to save 65 coal miners during the coal mine tragedy in Raniganj, West Bengal, in 1989. The rescue operation is considered India’s first successful coal mine rescue operation.
Sardar Jaswant Singh Gill was born on Wednesday, 22 November 1939 (age 80 years, at the time of death) in Sathiala, Amritsar, Punjab, India. His zodiac sign is Sagittarius. From class 1 to 4, he studied at an Urdu School in Amritsar, Punjab. He then completed his class 12 at Khalsa College, Amritsar, Punjab, India. In the same college, he pursued BSc Non-Medical (1959). He then attended Punjab University, Chandigarh. From 1961 to 1965, he did graduation in Mining Engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology (Indian School of Mines), Dhanbad, Jharkhand. In 2018, he attended Khalsa College, Amritsar, to pursue LLB. However, he could not complete the degree as he passed away in 2019.
Height (approx.): 5′ 10″
Hair Colour: Black
Eye Colour: Salt & Pepper
Jaswant Singh belongs to a Sikh family.
Parents & Siblings
His father, Daswandha Singh Gill, was a senior clerk at the postal department in Amritsar, Punjab. His mother’s name is Sardarni Preetam Kaur Gill. He had two brothers named Kulwant Singh Gill (ret. bank manager) and Dr Harwant Singh Gill (D. Ortho, retired as SMO from the PCMS College). He had two sisters; Narinder Kaur, who was a retired headmistress, and Dr Raminder Kaur, who was a pathologist and former HOD at Rajindra Medical College, Patiala and GMC, Amritsar. Jaswant Singh was the fourth child of his parents.
Wife & Children
On 19 October 1969, he got married to a girl named Nirdosh Kaur. The couple had two sons and two daughters. One of his sons Sarpreet Singh Gill is a Doctor, PGC Cardiology at Johns Hopkins USA, and one of his daughters’ names is Poonam Gill.
After completing his graduation in mining engineering, he got a job offer from the coal firm Chand Thapar & Bros (coal Sales) Ltd. After working there for a few years, in 1972, he started working at Coal India Limited as an engineer. After a few years, he was promoted to Sub-Divisional Engineer and then Executive Engineer at Coal India Limited. Later, he was promoted to Chief General Manager ED (Safety & Rescue) at Coal India Limited, Raniganj, West Bengal.
Coal Mine Rescue Operation 1989
In 1989, Jaswant was working as a Chief General Manager ED (Safety & Rescue) at Coal India Limited, Raniganj, West Bengal. On 13 November 1989, while 220 coal miners were working at a coal mine in Raniganj, West Bengal, during a series of blasts to break the coal mine, someone accidentally touched the upper seam of the mine, due to which water started flooding the mine. In the ruckus, out of 220 miners, 71 miners were left trapped in the borewell and others evacuated from the mine immediately. Soon, the shafts started flooding with water in which 6 coal miners drowned, and 65 coal miners were left trapped.
When Jaswant Singh arrived at the site, he decided to save the lives of 65 miners at any cost. He then came up with the idea of making a steel capsule which would help in evacuating one person at a time. Immediately, a borehole of 22 inches in diameter was drilled through which the capsule could travel. After a day-night effort of 2 days, the capsule was ready. Jaswant Singh had briefed the rescue process to two rescue men, but at the last moment, they ran away. Jaswant Singh then decided that he would carry on the rescue process on his own. He then asked the chairman of Coal India Ltd. to give him permission to go into the steel capsule, but the chairman was not ready to risk Jaswant’s life. However, Jaswant convinced the chairman. The chairman then said,
The man who rescues these miners, his name will be written in golden letters in the history of mining.”
On 16 November 1989, at 2:30 am, Jaswant entered the capsule and went down into the borewell to save the trapped miners. During an interview, Jaswant’s son shared that once his father shared the whole incident with him. While sharing the incident, Jaswant’s son said,
At 2:30 am, on the night of 16 November 1989, my father entered the Capsule to go down into a certain death trap. Almost a hundred thousand people who had by now gathered at the site shouted slogans to encourage him. As the Capsule began its descent, the torque in the new steel rope started relieving and made the Capsule spin at a high speed in a clockwise motion and then in an anticlockwise motion. It was a nerve-wracking endeavour, yet my father conquered his fear with sheer determination and concentration. In about 15 minutes he reached the pit bottom as a manual winch was being used to lower the Capsule.”
His son further shared how Jaswant Singh saved the miners one by one. He said,
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 was injured or sick. The first 9 tokens were given to those who had injuries and those who had a fever. He then asked for the hierarchy of the workers and gave out tokens from the junior most to the senior-most workers and told them that he would vacate the mine last after sending all of them out one by one.”
After evacuating all the miners, Jaswant Singh came out from the borewell in the last. The whole process took around 6 hours. Later, he assisted in another rescue operation of 14 miners trapped in the coal mine at East Jaintia Hills, Meghalaya. Jaswant Singh retired from his services at Coal India Lt. in 1998, and in 2008, he was appointed by the Disaster Management Committee, Amritsar, Punjab, India, as one of the members of the disaster management committee. On 26 April 2018, he started working as the President of Rotary International.
Awards, Honours, Achievements
- 1991: Sarvottam Jeevan Raksha Padak by the then President Ramaswamy Venkataraman
- 2005: Limca Book of Record as the national record holder for the most successful & largest rescue operation in mining history
- 29 November 2009: Lifetime Achievement Award for Mining by the Indian School of Mines Alumni Association (ISMAA), Delhi
- 1 November 2013: Lifetime Achievement Award and Rs 1 lakh by the then Union Minister Sri Prakash Jaiswal
- 2013: Swami Vivekanand Award of Excellence
- 24 December 2014: Outstanding Services to Humanity Award from Harman Educational & Social Welfare Society, Amritsar
- 7 June 2018: World Book of Record, London, UK, for Largest Coal Mine Rescue operation
- 2018: Indian Iconic Award by Real Flavours Media Group
- 2019: Pride of the Nation Award, Delhi
- 12 May 2019: Honorary Doctorate (PhD) by Universal Achievers University, Tamil Nadu
- Vijay Rath National Award from IICM, Ranchi
- Excellence in Safety Award from Coal India Ltd, Calcutta
- Bhagat Puran Singh Award from Guru Arjun Dev Mandal, Patiala
- Farishta-E-Kaum Award from Sache Patshah Magazine, New Delhi
On 26 November 2019, he suffered a cardiac arrest at his home in Amritsar, Punjab, India. His antim ardaas (last rites) were performed at Gurudwara Chhevin Patshahi, A/B Block, Ranjit Avenue, Amritsar, Punjab, India.
- Jaswant Singh is also known as ‘The Capsule Gill.’
- In India, 16 November is marked as ‘Rescue Day’ to commemorate the rescue operation carried on by Jaswant Singh in 1989.
- In 2019, he was invited to the talk show ‘Josh Talks’ (Punjabi), as a guest speaker.
- In memory of Jaswant Singh Gill, an award Jaswant Singh Gill Memorial Industrial Safety Excellence Award was started with award money of Rs 50,000.
- A chowk on Majitha Road in Amritsar, Punjab, India, is also named after him.
- In his remembrance, a memorial gate at Kunustoria Area, Eastern Coalfield Limited, and a garden in ECL West Bengal are constructed. A bulletin is also released in his memory.
- On 11 April 2022, his portrait was unveiled at the Sikh Museum in the Holy Golden Temple. The event was attended by his family members.
- During an interview, while talking about making a biopic on Jaswant Singh Gill, his son said,
In 2017, he (Jaswant) was approached by Tinu Desai from Mumbai, who had directed the Bollywood movie Rustom with actor Akshay Kumar and offered to make a Hindi movie on the rescue. Unfortunately, my father passed away on 26 November 2019, following a massive cardiac arrest.”
- In November 2022, the first look of the biopic on Jaswant Singh Gill was shared in the media. The film is directed by the Indian director Vashu Bhagnani. The Indian actor Akshay Kumar was roped in to portray Jaswant Singh in the film. In a tweet, while talking about the film, Akshay Kumar wrote,
Grateful to you @JoshiPralhad ji, for recalling India’s first coal mine rescue mission – this day 33yrs ago. मेरा सौभाग्य है कि मैं #SardarJaswantSinghGill जी का किरदार अपनी फ़िल्म में निभा रहा हूँ. It’s a story like no [email protected]”
In a tweet, the director of the film Vashu Bhagnani tweeted,
Remembering Late #SardarJaswantSinghGill on this day, who rescued the lives of miners who were stuck in the coal mines of Raniganj under very difficult circumstances. It is indeed an honour and privilege to showcase his heroic act in our next film.”