After Rajmahal disaster, CIL's outsourcing under a cloud

Workers, mines safety director-general question lapses

As outsourcing gathers steam in Coal India, questions are being raised over safety.

In the wake of the recent accident in the Rajmahal Open Cast Expansion Project in Jharkhand, which has so far claimed 18 lives, coal workers as well as the Directorate General of Mines Safety (DGMS) have raised concerns about lapses in workers' safety. Trade unions allege that safety aspects are often being overlooked, as Coal India is resorting to massive outsourcing of key mines and coal patches.

"Workers are being put at risk as Coal India is widening contractual mining," S Q Zama, secretary-general of the Indian National Mineworkers' Federation, said. He added security measures were not implemented by contractors while Coal India's inspection was not up to the mark.

Although Coal India is responsible for ensuring miners' safety, even in outsourced coal patches, it is the contractor who actually enforces measures. In case an irregularity is noticed, the contractor reports it to the company, which takes requisite measures. However, the implementation of this system has been questioned. Asked, if outsourcing was resulting in safety lapses, Rahul Guha, director-general of mines, said, "There is no doubt about it. Indications of an impending accident were overlooked. It is a man-made disaster."

In its preliminary findings on the Rajmahal mine accident, the DGMS has found cracks had developed in the overburden dump, which was not brought to notice, resulting in the slide. The Rajmahal mine was contracted to Mahalaxmi Infracontract.

However, R RMisha, chairman of Western Coalfields, who has recently been given additional charge for Eastern Coalfields, under which the Rajmahal Open Cast Expansion Project operates, is of the view that the accident is not the result of overburden dump failure.

Coal workers have long been protesting against the rising tide of outsourcing in the company, highlighting inequality in wages and benefits and lapses in safety.

Coal India's contract workers accounted for 40 per cent of the production five years ago and this has now reached 55-60 per cent.

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