The death of four workers in an explosion at an open cast coal mine in Telangana on Tuesday (June 2) was treated as just another cold statistic in the media coverage.
After a few condolence statements and assurances of ex-gratia payment, it was business as usual for the state-owned Singareni Collieries Company Ltd (SCCL), which runs the mine at Ramagundam in Peddapalli district.
The mishap came as a grim reminder of the poor safety standards in mines run by the SCCL, which currently operates 18 open cast and 30 underground mines spread across four Telangana districts.
Nearly 50,000 workers are engaged in coal mining operations, located across a 350-km stretch of the Pranahitha-Godavari Valley. Telangana has proven coal reserves of 8,791 million tonnes, says the SCCL website.
The miners have been demanding adequate safety measures from the SCCL management. A majority of them are contract workers. “They are made to work in deplorable conditions with poor safety gear,” said environmentalist Prof Purushotham Reddy.
The recent accident occurred at Ramagundam-3 region when the detonators, used to blast the boulders, went off prematurely, killing four contract workers on the spot and injuring three others who are now undergoing treatment at a hospital in Peddapalli town.
“The preliminary probe revealed that the explosion occurred while fixing the detonators in the holes. Apparently, the workers on site were not experienced in handling such tasks,” a senior police officer said.
A case under IPC Section 304A (causing death by negligence) has been registered. Meanwhile, a senior official of the SCCL said the Director General of Mines Safety would conduct a departmental enquiry.
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All the four victims, in their 30s, were contractual workers, said Ramagundam Police Commissioner V Satyanarayana.
The Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC) general secretary Janak Prasad demanded a judicial probe into the mishap and an ex-gratia of ₹1 crore each to the families of the victims and ₹50 lakh to each of the injured.
The trade union leaders alleged that the use of explosives in the mining operations by untrained private contractors had led to the mishap.
“In fact, it has become a normal practice for the private contractors to engage untrained and inexperienced workers and push them into hazardous operations,” said a leader of the Telangana Boggu Gani Karmika Sangham (TGBKS), a trade union representing mining workers.
The Singareni management has been encouraging private participation in the mining operations with the sole motto of earning more profits and increasing production, thereby neglecting the safety of coal miners.
“The outsourcing of mining-related works to private contractors has resulted in the increase in the number of accidents,” another trade union leader Raji Reddy said.
Besides, the SCCL management has failed to ensure that the private firms followed the safety norms as per the Directorate General of Mine Safety (DGMS) guidelines, he said.
The management should provide compensation to contract workers also on par with the permanent employees, the union leaders demanded.
“The blasting work should not be given to private contractors and it should be done only under the supervision of an expert, who holds a mining certificate,” said K Mallaiah, the state president of Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS).
BJP State secretary and Singareni Struggle Committee chairman S Kumar alleged that the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) government had turned a blind eye to the genuine concerns of the mining workers.
The SCCL extracts 67 million tonnes of coal from its mines every year for supplies for power generation in Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra. Besides, coal from the local fields is also supplied to pharmaceutical companies, ceramic, iron and steel industries.
According to the data tabled in the Lok Sabha on December 31, 2018, as many as 377 workers involved in mining of coal, minerals, and oil were killed in accidents between 2015 and 2017.
Of the 377 deaths, 129 occurred in 2017. As many as 145 died in 2016, while the figure was 103 in 2015.
Coal mines accounted for highest number of casualties — 210. Telangana recorded 32 deaths in this entire period. These figures were provided by the Labour and Employment Ministry, in response to a question raised by Laxman Giluwa, a BJP MP from Jharkhand.
Jharkhand, which recorded 69 deaths in the three years, has accounted for the highest number of casualties in mine accidents.nsafe Mines, Uncared Lives