Coal mines bleed in job mafia wars

BCCL's contract labour culture gets ugly

By Praduman Choubey in Dhanbad
  • Published 9.04.15
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Colliery workers and villagers from Dobari stage a dharna at Randhir Verma Chowk, Dhanbad, on Wednesday. (Gautam Dey)

Dhanbad, April 8: Over 1,000 labourers of Bharat Coking Coal Limited (BCCL), led by Nirsa MLA Arup Chatterjee, gathered for a mammoth dharna at Randhir Verma Chowk today, demanding district administration and police action against "goons hired by private companies".

The upshot of a clash between trade unions on April 4, today's dharna is important for blowing the lid off an open secret in Jharkhand's coal capital - violence in BCCL mines over who gets the lion's share of recruiting contractual labour. Local goons, union leaders, private companies and politicians, all vie for the biggest slice of the pie.

Altogether, in the past three months, 67 cases of violence have been registered in different police stations of Dhanbad for violence in over 40 mining patches of BCCL in Dhanbad where over two dozen private companies are working.

Among them, 17 were serious enough to merit clamping prohibitory orders under Section 144 of the CrPC.

The reasons for this violence are simple. In black diamond territory, a potent combination of money and power drive many into fighting lucrative turf wars.

Though coal mining was nationalised in 1972, from the mid-2000s onwards, faced by losses, BCCL started outsourcing workers and equipment to private players for digging and loading. Right now, if BCCL has 60,000 permanent staff, it has 80,000 contractual hands.

This outsourcing creates a huge opportunity for power brokers of different shades - small private company owners, trade union leaders, politicians and local goons. Allegedly, as big money is involved, everyone tries to cash in on BCCL's contractual labour demand by sending their "own men" for recruitment.

The more apna aadmi each power broker manages to employ in BCCL, the more his clout and cash.

To take the most minor instance, if 20 casual workers are employed to load coal on a truck, and each are paid barely Rs 60, even if their leader (read the goon) gets Rs 20 from each as his hafta, he pockets Rs 400 in minutes.

On April 4, supporters of two trade unions - Janta Mazdoor Sangh (Kunti Singh faction) affiliated to Hind Mazdoor Sabha and Bihar Colliery Kamgar Union affiliated to Central Industrial Trade Union (Citu) - came to blows over the same reason. Each wanted their men to be employed in coal loading work at Dobari colliery in BCCL's Bastacola area in Jharia.

Though the district administration clamped Section 144 in the colliery, on April 5, over 200 supporters of both unions, armed with lathis, clashed with each other flouting the prohibitory order. The day ended with over a dozen men seriously injured. Police lodged five FIRs and arrested a dozen people.

Though MLA Chatterjee accused BCCL management in Dobari colliery and the police of bias and urged action against Janta Mazdoor Sangh (Kunti faction), he welcomed Dhanbad DC Kripanand Jha's directive to trade unions and others not to interfere between private companies who outsource people to BCCL and labourers.

"With the entry of private players in coal mining, local goons and trade unions interfere with the aim of making money and arm-twisting small companies to engage their own supporters as contractual labourers," said general secretary of Rashtriya Colliery Mazdoor Sangh A.K. Jha.

He argued the BCCL's decision to recruit workers from private companies was in itself faulty. "It is like turning the clock back to pre-nationalisation era when private companies took help of muscleman to keep labourers in check."

"There is almost a ban on new recruitment in coal companies, including the BCCL, since the V.P. Singh government at the Centre of 1989-90. Can you imagine? Private outsourcing companies hired by BCCL engage people with total disregard to labour laws, offering them wages lower than official minimum. Forget accommodation or medical facility, these workers don't even get a weekly off," charged Jha.

But, still, with coal powering the district's economy, people desperate from jobs take on BCCL contractual jobs with alacrity and know that greasing a few palms here and there is almost the norm.

ISM head of management studies Dr Pramod Pathak said the spurt in violence was linked to money.

"After private companies and local players were engaged in mining, leaders and goons started seeing this as an opportunity to mint money. Vested interests, war of words and scuffles became common between groups," he said.

BCCL deputy general manager (public relations) R.R. Prasad admitted money caused violence in outsourcing patches.

"We try to control the situation on our own or take police help when needed," he said.

On the present tension, Dhanbad subdivisional officer Abhishek Srivastava said: "Nobody will be allowed to go against the law. We will take appropriate action against people resorting to violence."