R&D Centre for Iron and Steel, SAIL, in Ranchi
Ranchi, May 20: Steel Authority of India (SAIL) has suspended all operations at its Bhawanathpur limestone mines in Garhwa for want of clearances from the Union forest and environment ministry, rendering 168 contract workers unemployed.
However, the country’s largest steelmaker agreed to pay them three months’ wages as retrenchment compensation as per terms of settlement brokered by deputy chief labour commissioner (Patna) A.K. Sen recently.
“We have not closed down the Bhawanathpur mines. There has been a temporary brake on activities because we have not received the required forest and environmental clearances from the Centre. We have taken up the case with the concerned ministry and mining operations shall commence once we receive the clearances,” A.K. Das, assistant general manager (personnel), raw materials division, SAIL, told The Telegraph.
According to sources, work at the site came to a halt when the environment licence lapsed around a year ago, forcing workers’ unions to raise the issue with the labour commission.
“We contacted deputy chief labour commissioner, Patna, to protect the interests of contract workers. Subsequently, SAIL and workers’ unions signed an agreement on May 6, when for the first time the PSU went on record to say it was discontinuing all mining operations at Bhawanathpur. It also agreed to pay retrenchment compensation to all contract workers,” Ganesh Singh, president of NMDC Workers’ Union, a signatory, said.
The two other unions that took part in the discussion were Bokaro Steel Workers’ Union and Palamau Pramandal Khan Mazdoor Sangh.
“The terms of settlement are agreed to by both SAIL and the unions and no further dispute shall be raised in the same matter,” the memorandum of settlement read.
Further, it said the settlement payment would be made either by cheque or by a direct credit into the bank accounts of contract workers.
The president of NMDC union, affiliated to All India Trade Union Congress, alleged the contract workforce apart, several hundred men and women, engaged in local markets in the Bhawanathpur area, would be badly affected by the move.
“There was a time when more than 1,100 permanent SAIL personnel were posted at Bhawanathpur. Most of them have either been transferred to other plants and mines or have been asked to go for voluntary retirement. Today, only around 270 permanent employees are left. With the suspension of mining here, the remaining employees are also being re-deployed at other mines,” Singh told The Telegraph.
Over the years, the SAIL steel plants have also reduced their dependence on Bhawanathpur, drawing their limestone quotas from other locations. “As a result Bhawanathpur has been subjected to prolonged neglect,” he alleged, adding that chances of restarting operations here in the near future were dim.
Sources revealed Bhawanathpur had a proven reserve of 97 million metric tonnes of limestone.
But poor quality, excessive hardness and a high alkali content in limestone have been going against the Bhawanathpur mines.
Notably, SAIL earmarked some 1100 acres out of over 4,000 acres at Bhawanathpur to the state government for a 1320MW thermal power plant to be set up by Jharkhand Urja Vikas Nigam Ltd.
Chief minister Hemant Soren laid the foundation stone for the power plant on February 19 this year.
The proposed thermal power plant, which would be equipped with two units each with an installed capacity of 660MW, is to be set up under a public-private partnership mode.