MAC: Mines and Communities

India Update

Published by MAC on 2006-09-16

India Update

16th September 2006

A huge coal mine explosion has cost the lives of some fifty workers in Jharkhand.

Attempts by Tata and Posco to mitigate the criticisms which followed this year's Kalinganagar massacre aren't faring too well. Locals are still split over the proposed new steel plants, despite claims from both companies that they are wining hearts and minds.

Villagers oppose SMC expansion

Pioneer News Service | Sambalpur

16th September 2006

Villagers of Hirma gram panchayat in Jharsuguda district on Tuesday opposed the proposed expansion of SMC Power Generation Limited, a sponge iron unit, during a public hearing meeting for its "anti-people attitude."

The locals alleged that heavy pollution has transformed the fertile land of the adjoining villages into barren land. Similarly, residents living in the vicinity of the factory are even deprived of safe drinking water due to presence of toxic and coal particles in water bodies like wells and ponds.

Apart from this, the villagers alleged that the company is also not paying attention to peripheral development, local employment, health and education of the project-affected people.

The sponge iron company started its production in 2004 and wants to upgrade the unit to an integrated steel plant after a green signal from the State Government.

Most villagers present at the meeting raised fingers against the company and sought that permission for its expansion be not granted, as it would become a death trap for them. The villagers of Hirma also alleged collusion between the district administration, including panchayat officials, and the company.

During the public hearing, the people heckled the vice-president of the company and alleged that the head of the Regional Pollution Control Board, Sambalpur, Surya Mishra, was not taking action against the company, despite repeated violation of the pollution norms.

Anti-Posco heat on forest dept

Statesman News Service, JAGATSINGHPUR

15th September 2006

Groups opposed to the impending displacement caused by Posco steel plant project yesterday waylaid and manhandled forest officers who had visited the site to conduct survey and identification work.

The forest department officers led by the divisional forest officer, Mr AK Jena, were stopped by the anti-Posco activists near a temple and detained them for four hours.

The agitated mob alleged that the forest officers were acting at the behest of the steel company. "The action is in line with our vow not to allow any government vehicle or official to enter the villages," said the anti-Posco group.

The forest officials were to visit Gadakujang, Noliashai and Govindapur and identify forest lands which fall within the proposed steel plant project site.

Forest officials alleged that they had been robbed of a digital camera, two mobile phones and cash. The mob ransacked the vehicle also, they added. Forest ranger Mr Ranjan Das has lodged a complaint with the police against Basudev Khanudal of Naugaon village and six others in this connection. Till date, revenue and police officers of the district have been maintaining a safe distance from the core area and stronghold of anti-Posco activists. There have been instances of revenue and police officials being detained and assaulted.

The basic land survey work for the plant has been a non-starter till date and is long overdue.

A couple of days ago, activists of Naba Nirman Samiti and Rastriy Yuba Sangthan led by Biswajeet Ray and Akhya Kumar demonstrated before the All India Radio, Cuttack, demanding that Posco-related advertisements be stopped.

Tata, POSCO face protest by locals

Jajati Karan, CNN-IBN

10th September 2006

Kalinganagar (Orissa): Steel giants Tata and POSCO's investment plans in Kalinga Nagar in Jajpur district of Orissa had received a major blow after the killing of 13 tribal men and women took place in the area on January 2.

The tribals were killed in police firing while opposing construction of a boundary wall for the proposed six-million-tonne steel plant of Tata Steel.

To compensate for the loss, the company had employed 29 young tribals and provided them with training. TATA and the South Korean steel giant POSCO tried to win over the tribals by providing the local youths scholarships, training and medical camps.

"When we set our plant in South Korea and China we got similar problems. But we can overcome these problems in Orissa by winning the confidence of the local people by such welfare programmes," says Cho Soung Sik, CMD, POSCO-India.

But now, there's a twist in the tale. The tribals who had lead the agitation in January claim the 29 youngsters employed by TATA are not a part of them at all. They say the training camps 'bait' is a clever tactics and a well-planned strategy used by the companies to break the agitation.

"Those youths did not belong to our agitations and that will make no difference to our agitation against the steel plant," says a tribal leader Chakradhar Haiburu.

However, the companies say that the local youth had readily grabbed the opportunities and had said that they wanted to make the most of the offer.

"We know some day the government will take our land for the steel plant. So why not cooperate and at least get benefited from it," Mahabir Hembram, a tribal beneficiary says.

The Orissa government promises to provide rehabilitation to the locals displaced by new investment projects. But the locals are not willing to take back their protests

Mines of death

12th Spetember 2006

The safety record of coal mining has improved over time, but mine disasters have been happening with disconcerting regularity.

There is no doubt that India's safety record in coal mining has improved over time, particularly since the takeover of the sector in 1973. Even so, mine disasters have been happening with disconcerting regularity, mostly in underground mines. While disasters due to explosions have been controlled in the last two decades, the scourge of inundation has increased alarmingly in the recent past. This is the backdrop against which the recent disaster at the Bhatdih mine (near Dhanbad) of Bharat Coking Coal Limited - which claimed some 50 lives - has to be seen. The tragedy was sparked by an explosion whose cause is yet to be ascertained.

An inquiry committee has been set up which will, in due course, report on the causes of the tragedy and affix responsibility. This will take its own time and, needless to say, it is to be expected that the report will be objective in its findings and comprehensive in its conclusions. In this context, it is of interest to note that some officials have already been quoted as saying that the Bhatdih mine authorities did not pay enough attention to the safety standards which, if true, needs to be given the highest importance not merely by Coal India but also by the Coal Ministry, especially as the coal mining sector is to soon see a return of private sector operators. Even though prevailing safety standards have improved significantly the world over the past three decades, it should be kept in mind that one of the reasons for the nationalisation of coal mining was the poor safety record of privately-run mines. As studies on mine safety have indicated, fundamentally it is a question of effective management practices, there being much room for improvement within Coal India in this aspect.

Apart from a sense of lethargy that has crept in at the senior management level, other aspects of mining safety that need a closer look are proper supervision of contract labour and quality-control of basic inputs such as explosives, and self-rescuers (a device that permits miners to breathe in an atmosphere thick with carbon-monoxide caused by fire). To take an example, a huge consignment of self-rescuers bought by Coal India in 1998 worth more than a million dollars was found to be substandard by the Directorate-General of Mines Safety and ordered to be replaced. Since the Bhatdih disaster was caused by an explosion and a large number of miners reportedly died because of the inhalation of carbon-monoxide, the inquiry would do well to find out it whether the ill-fated miners were equipped with self-rescuers in the first place and whether the equipment functioned properly.

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