Vol. XLI No. 02 January 08, 2017

Death of Workers in ECL: Criminal Compromise of Safety

THE secretariat of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) in a statement issued on December 30, has strongly condemned the criminal compromise of the safety in the coalmines under Eastern Coalfields Limited that has led to the death of more than six workers and serious injuries to many more. The Lalmatia mines under the ECL of Coal India in Godda district of Jharkhand are being operated by Mahalakshmi Company Private Limited, a private company.

The accident took place in the dark hours between 7 and 8 pm on December 29, 2016. Large heaps of overburden, of around 500 mtr was stacked on all three sides of workface, to a height of 100–150 metres illegally and totally ignoring safety requirements. This stack developed crack, which was noticed by the workers who reported to the management and expressed their unwillingness to work. Instead of removing the stack and ensuring their safety, the private management and ECL compelled the workers to go into the mines. The crack got worse due to the vibrations from blasting in a nearby workface and collapsed over the workers. While six bodies have been extracted so far, it is feared that around 60-70 workers including a mining sirdar are still trapped under the debris. It is highly deplorable that it took more than 16 hours for the rescue teams of ECL to arrive at the spot.

CITU reiterates that outsourcing of coal mining is a vital cause of increasing rate of accidents.  Under the ultra aggressive neo-liberal policies of Modi government and demolition of labour laws, safety regulations have been put out of inspection and workers are compelled to work in tremendous unsafe conditions and as a result the fatalities and serious accidents are increasing in coal industry and in particular in ECL, where along with the permanent workmen, contract workers have also become more vulnerable. The mining sector is gradually becoming a virtual death field and increasing pace of outsourcing and contractorisation is making the situation more precarious. During the last three years, over 340 deaths due to accidents have been reported in the mining sector; 1195 have reportedly been seriously injured. More than 36.8 percent of such fatalities are of contract workers. The number has been increasing with outsourcing.

While seriously condemning the apathetic attitude of the management of ECL, CIL and coal ministry towards the safety of workers, CITU demands that outsourcing of coal mining must be stopped immediately. An impartial enquiry committee should be constituted to fix responsibility and punish those found guilty.

CITU expresses its heartfelt sympathies to the families of the deceased workers and demands that the families of the victims should be paid Rs 12. 5 lakhs in addition to the normal compensation as recommended by the court of enquiry in the case of Anjani hills disaster and accepted by the government of India. CITU also demands that the nearest kin of the victims must be given permanent employment in the coal company.