For the last two weeks, mining activities in Talcher Coalfields in Odisha have been halted following protests by villagers and workers as four workers were killed and nine others sustained severe injuries after a landslide at Bharatpur coal mine on July 23. The coal mine is owned by Mahanadi Coalfields Ltd (MCL), a public-sector undertaking.
On Monday, August 5, rescue teams recovered the body of Ramesh Dash, one among the four killed, who was working as a security guard of DK Dana Security Agency, a contractor of the MCL.
As per sources, initially, the family members of the deceased, along with miners began agitating against poor safety conditions at mining sites while demanding a high-level probe into the incident and better compensation for the victim families. Later on, the protests intensified as locals in Talcher joined them who have been opposing land acquisition by the MCL for the expansion of the mining for over a year now.
While the reasons for the accident are yet to be ascertained, one senior executive at the MCL told Business Standard that the reason for this accident is not having enough land to make steps which is a safer option. Instead, the mining was being conducted in ‘vertical mode’ due to shortage of surplus land. Reportedly, the Director General of Mines Safety, Bhubaneswar and the district administration are also probing the matter.
Also read: Illegal Coal Mine in Dhanbad Collapses Trapping Miners, at Least 4 Dead
A tripartite meeting held on Monday between Paresh Nayak, Sub-Collector of Talcher, protesters and officials of MCL ended inconclusive as MCL did not agree to the protesters’ demand for permanent jobs in MCL along with Rs 1 crore as compensation. However, the MCL claimed that it has already provided compensation as per the concerned law.
Meanwhile, sources told NewsClick that the government officials and lawmakers have begun another round of negotiations today, with all stakeholders to resume mining operations as the two-week halt has adversely impacted the revenue of the MCL.
“As on date, the company has incurred cumulative operational losses of up to 2.1 million tonnes of coal and 2.42 million tonnes of despatch. Its coal value loss stands at Rs 213.60 crore,” the MCL said in a statement.
Talcher Coalfield reserve is Asia’s largest coal mine with an average production of 300,000 tonnes per day and has about 50 billion tonnes of coal reserve.
The unrest at the mines has also affected power plants in Odisha and South Indian states. Reportedly, National Thermal Power Corporation’s (NTPC’s) 3,000 Mw Kaniha power plant, near the mine, had to close down four of its six units as coal supply has been stuck for more than a week.
According to MCL’s officials, major power plants belonging to Andhra Pradesh Power Generation Corporation (APGENCO) and Andhra Pradesh Power Development Company Limited (APPDCL) in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu Generation and Distribution Corporation (TANGEDCO), Neyvelli Lignite Corporation and NTPC Tamil Nadu Energy Company Ltd (NTECL) in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka Power Corporation Ltd (KPCL) in Karnataka have reported depleting coal stocks.
The stir between MCL and miners in not new in Odisha as workers have several times raised their voice and protested against the MCL in the recent past.
Also read: Armed With SC Order, States Slap Hefty Penalty on CIL Subsidiaries
In May this year, when a security guard named Kailash Maharana was killed after being hit by a heavy vehicle at the premises of Balaram coal mines in Talcher, workers and security staff staged a dharna demanding ex-gratia and job for the victims family. Reportedly, the miners had also gone on strike in January this year and also in June last year.