(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
January 20, 2013
CITU DELEGATION VISITS ACCIDENT SITE
‘Act against Vedanta for
Criminal Negligence of Safety’
TWO workers died on the spot on January 4, 2013 while working in the boiler of the Lead smelter plant of M/s Hindustan Zinc Ltd (HZL) at its Dariba Zynk mine site in Rajsamand district of Rajasthan. The emission of toxic gas inside the boiler of the plant caused their death. Both the deceased workers were contract workers. Four more workers were also affected by leakage of toxic gas but fortunately survived.
A team of CITU leaders led by its general secretary Tapan Sen, CPI(M) MLA Amra Ram, CITU Rajasthan state secretary R K Swamy and state CITU leaders B L Bapna, K L Srimali, Kaluram Sutar and others visited the spot and the adjoining area including the Kotri village on January 9, 2013 to inquire about the incident and meet the victims' family members. The delegation spoke to workers of the mine and the Lead plant, including the affected workers and also the residents of the adjoining villages.
Certain glaring facts about desperate violation of laws of the land by M/s Vedanta group, owner of Hindustan Zinc Ltd, in connivance with both the state and central governments came to light. But it was clear that there was utter and perpetual negligence in basic safety norms by the management that not only led to the death of two workers on January 5 but also resulted in frequent happenings of such incidents during the last two years since the plant started operation.
Hindustan Zinc Ltd, once a public sector company, was sold to Vedanta group by handing over 74 per cent share to them in April 2002 as part of disinvestment drive of the then NDA government. Since then almost the entire workforce of the company was contractorised. The old Zinc mine at Dariba, Rajasthan, is having only 800 regular workers along with 1000 contract workers, who are all engaged in regular operational jobs. The Lead plant at Dariba is run by contract workers alone numbering around 500 deployed under numerous contractors. In another Zinc mine at Sindheswari,the entire workforce is engaged through contractors. Running the mines and plants almost entirely by contract workers is an arrogant violation of Contract Labour (Regulation & Abolition) Act which the Vedanta management has been merrily continuing despite there being a government nominee in the Board of Directors of Hindustan Zinc Ltd.
The second illegality is the Lead plant itself in the Dariba Mine site which extracts lead from zinc generating various byproducts, including chemicals and toxic gases. As per environmental norms, such plant should not be located within 10 km radius of densely populated area. The dense human habitation starts within half a kilometer distance from the plant. Initially there had been strong opposition from concerned panchayat and other groups. But Vedanta could successfully manage all opposition through reportedly dubious means and both state and central governments, including the environment ministry, cleared all hurdles for setting up the plant trampling underfoot the environmental norms written by them only.
There is practically no preventive safety arrangement in the plant. As stated by the workers, the accident that killed the workers occurred on January 4 around mid day when welding work was going on in the boiler. Although the boiler was shut down, the temperature had not come down to permissible level for deploying workers there for welding and related maintenance job. But still the workers were forced to work there that too without proper safety gear to guard against gas and heat. In such a situation, leakage of toxic gas led to the death of two workers. The workers also stated that since 2010 when the plant started production, there have been at least six such accidents at workplace killing at least seven workers. All such incidents occurred owing to the management forcing the contract workers to work in unsafe conditions and without proper protective gears.
The farmers of the adjoining villages also reported about crop loss, water contamination and diseases among their livestock following release of toxic chemical wastes from the plant.
On the day after the accident occurred killing two contract workers, the villagers and workers gathered around the plant and did not allow to remove the dead bodies demanding company's senior officials to visit the spot and explain why workers are being compelled to work in unsafe conditions. Surprisingly, the senior officials did not turn up and instead a big contingent of police reached there to work as security guards of Vedanta. The police lathicharged and opened fire on the resentful villagers and workers assembled there, resulting in injuries to many. In a vengeance manner. the police conducted raids on the villages and indiscriminately arrested villagers and workers, ransacking their homes. It tried to be the most loyal servant of Vedanta company. Amra Ram, MLA, who was present on the spot at that time, had telephoned the district collector of Rajsamand and demanded immediate release of those arrested. He also questioned the collector as to why the administration was not showing the same initiative for arresting the Vedanta officials for killing two innocent workers at the workplace.
The delegation addressed press conference at Chittorgarh and demanded that strong action must be taken against Vedanta for desperate violation of laws of the land on environment and contract labor. They demanded immediate regularisation of contract labourers deployed in all establishments of Hindustan Zinc Ltd and strong monitoring and surveillance on the management to ensure workplace preventive safety. Local farming community's grievances should also be properly addressed.