but today has only 32,000, even though its production has increased threefold. Coal India Ltd produces 80 per cent of the coal in India but 60 per cent of its labourers are on contract. Most such workers are untrained and know little about safety. Private contractors who provide this workforce have no concern for safety either,” AITUC national general secretary Dipesh Mishra says.
The union labour ministry’s Industrial Safety and Health Department, too, attributes the high number of accidents in Chhattisgarh to the conditions, lack of skilled labour and poor law enforcement. “Most of the accidents I observed here involved unsuitable conditions and unskilled labourers,” says ISH deputy director Vijay Soni, whose task is to ensure health, welfare and safety measures for industrial workers in Chhattisgarh. “Contractual labourers are not even properly compensated after accidents. If they are trained, the ratio of accidents can drastically come down,” he says.
In the biggest ever industrial accident in Chhattisgarh, over 41 labourers had died in 2009 when an 275-metre chimney under construction at a 1200 MW power plant had collapsed on BALCO’s premises. A judicial commission blamed the company and the administration, with Justice Sandeep Bakshi noting substandard construction material and mechanical and civil engineering faults. Bakshi said the construction violated land and municipal laws, structural designs were not approved, quality standards were not followed and security measures were not in place, and blamed labour department and municipal corporation officers for negligence.
“When there was a fire in a West Bengal hospital, even the hospital’s owners were made accused. In Balco’s case, even after the Bakshi report, the top management and owners were not charged. The government instead tried to shield the owners,” says Bilaspur High Court advocate Sudeip Shrivastava, who fights such cases.
Vijay Soni agrees: “Punishment and penalty are not effectively imposed after accidents. These should be enhanced.”
Incidentally, earlier this month, a labour court awarded one year in jail to two former SAIL’s top officials, executive director Ashok Kumar and GM Hanumat Rao, for neglecting safety concerns leading to the death of a labourer. The court noted that the two often showed such negligence and deserved strict punishment.