ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Mines Safety: On Deaf Ears

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Fire and subsidence have been persistent occurrences in coal mines for many years. And each time a major accident occurs taking lives, an inquiry is set up. It comes as a surprise then that the Standing Committee on Energy had directed the Central Mines Planning and Design Institute (CMPDIL)some years back to carry out a detailed study on “unscientific and slaughter mining” which was found to be the main cause of fire and subsidence. Sadly though, only mining under Eastern Coalfields (ECL) and Bharat Coking Coal (BCCL) have been examined, which makes the implementation of any uniform policy for controlling such occurrences difficult. Two options have been proposed: one to avoid all coal extraction from these places if there were habitations on the surface, and to prevent development of new habitations on coal bearing lands. The first option, it was felt, would involve ‘wastage of huge national assets’ and so evolved the policy of attempting to move these inhabitants and resettle them elsewhere. A high level committee of the government some years ago recommended the setting up of satellite towns to resettle such inhabitants and a ban on any new construction in ‘unsafe’ areas in the coalfields. While there has been some progress in West Bengal, the Bihar government is yet to enact an appropriate law, as also Jharkhand.

The annual report of the department of coal reveals interesting information on the progress of rehabilitation projects. Of four unstable coalfields in ECL, only in one field had alternative land for resettlement been identified and the projects are a long way from completion. Two of these sites are blocking the extraction of 71 million tonnes of good quality coking coal. Interestingly, there has been no dearth of funds. The slow progress has to do with the human dimension, and that is something resettlement schemes have consistently failed to appreciate. Moreover, given that the industry is in such bad shape, does the lack of access to 71 million tonnes of coal matter a great deal? Coal India and its subsidiaries suffered production loss of over 1 million tonnes of coal due to strikes and bandhs in 2000-01. One reason for the work stoppages has been Coal India’s inability to pay wage arrears to its employees for the period 1976 to 2000 which amount to Rs 3,425 crore! Notwithstanding this, the annual report of the department asserts that industrial relations during the year have been ‘cordial’.

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