As the country battling coronavirus epidemic, concerns are being raised about well-being of underground mine workers at Coal India arm BCCL in the absence of adequate safety measures, multiple sources in the know said.
Under essential services, these mines, as per information, were given permission to operate by the district administration under strict regulations that include mandatory social distancing of "one metre" but sources say norms are not being followed.
However, as per the management, after initial teething trouble that included requirement of huge quantity of masks, things are being streamlined, while the employees are also donating their one day salary for the measures to battle the epidemic.
"The lives of workers at mines at Putki, Gopalichak, Lohapatti, Tetulmuri, Moonidih, Salanpur, Akshkinari besides other areas have been put at risk as leave apart basic hygiene issues, dust masks or sanitisers some of the mines even lack adequate water to wash hands. Neither regular medical checks ups are being done nor there are temperature measuring devices, a source said.
Another source said that one metre social distancing norm, mandatory for running the underground mines, is not being followed.
"It is impossible to maintain one metre distance. Every work in underground mine involves at least four to five persons to work together like holding drill machines, pushing mine tubs etc. The environment is also confined where almost 50 to 60 workers are present at anytime in close proximity," the source said.
Sources said the workers here mainly come from West Bengal, Jharkhand and Bihar and there have been positive cases of COVID-19 in West Bengal.
Bharat Coking Coal Ltd (BCCL) produces bulk of the coking coal mined in the country and meets almost 50 per cent of the total prime coking coal requirement of the integrated steel sector.
However, only about 3,000 tonnes a day of coking coal is produced from its 10 operational Under Ground (UG) mines with about 3,000-4,000 people working in these mines in three shifts, as per a senior BCCL official.
When contacted Chairman and Managing Director of BCCL PM Prasad told PTI that there were some initial constraints like availability of masks which have been addressed and elaborate measures are being taken to disinfect mines that include bleaching powder spray.
"We are bracing up to fight it We are putting all necessary steps in place to protect our workers at the time of this epidemic. As part of solidarity to fight against the epidemic the employees have also agreed to donate their one day's salary," Prasad said.
About 3,000 workers were engaged in underground mining at present in three shifts with restricted activities, he added.
Prasad said Rs 5 crore will also be used for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Fund.
When contacted, Secretary Mines, Aboobacker Siddique said that he has asked the concerned Deputy Commissioner and officials to enquire the issue and take all necessary action, including corrective and preventive steps.
As per the order issued by the Deputy Commissioner, Dhanbad the permission for mining has been granted on the basis of conditions that included "one meter" distancing and regular checkups of the workers involved.
The conditions also mandate availability of sanitisers and masks and use of minimum workforce.
A total of about 43,000 workforce is employed at BCCL. It was incorporated in January, 1972 to operate coking coal mines in the Jharia & Raniganj Coalfields, taken over by the government in 1971 to ensure planned development of the scarce coking coal resources in the country.
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