Parbatpur coal block deadlocked, 2000 hit

Over 2,000 contract workers hired by Electrosteel Castings Limited Company (ESCL) at Parbatpur coal block, 30km from Bokaro, got marching orders late last night while the private investor lost its captive coal source in a chain of developments triggered by a Supreme Court axe in the wake of the Coalgate scam.

By Shashank Shekhar in Bokaro
  • Published 2.04.15
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An excavator stands idle at the Parbatpur coal block in Bokaro on Wednesday while (below) sacked contractual workers protest in front of the main gate. (Pankaj Singh)

Bokaro, April 1: Over 2,000 contract workers hired by Electrosteel Castings Limited Company (ESCL) at Parbatpur coal block, 30km from Bokaro, got marching orders late last night while the private investor lost its captive coal source in a chain of developments triggered by a Supreme Court axe in the wake of the Coalgate scam.

Coal India Limited (CIL) has taken over the coal block so far controlled by ESCL to cater to the needs of its sister company Electrosteel Steel Limited, 5km away.

The CIL has also made Dhanbad-based Bharat Coking Coal Limited (BCCL) the coal block's custodian.

Eyewitnesses said things moved fast.

Around 11.30pm yesterday, BCCL general manger A.K. Vohra along with its AGM Subodh Prasad, BCCL safety manager P.K. Chowdhry and other officials and two dozen BCCL guards reached Parbatpur. Ordering the mine's indefinite closure, BCCL authorities told workers at the site that as work had stopped, everyone had to vacate the coal block zone.

Confirming the takeover, BCCL chairman-cum-managing director T.K. Lahiri said he had received a fax in office from CIL last evening that directed BCCL to take charge. "It was done last night. As per protocol, this information was also given to the director-general of mines safety," Lahiri said.

On if the BCCL was interested in mining, a senior BCCL official, who did not want to be named, clarified: "BCCL has only been made the custodian of the coal block. As such, it is not interested in coal mining. The Union coal ministry will decide upon the future course of action."

The UPA-I government allotted Parbatpur coal block in Chandankyari block of Bokaro to the ESCL in 2005 for Electrosteel Steel Limited based at Siyaljori village in the same block, with a 2.5MTPA production capacity. Coal mining in the block started in 2009 and had been yielding around 32,000 metric tonnes a month.

But, in September 2014, when the Supreme Court cancelled the coal block allocations, the Parbatpur one also came under the order. Subsequently, the BJP government decided to re-auction this block in February 2015. But, when the Union government called for an open bidding for the coal block, only one entity, M/s JSW Steel Limited, bid for it.

That is why JSW Steel Limited did not get mining rights.

Talking exclusively to The Telegraph, Electrosteel plant general manager R.S. Singh said: "The ball is now in the Centre's court. Let us wait to see what the CIL has in mind."

Asked why the ESCL did not bid for this coal block, Singh said: "We were not eligible."

On how the company would cater to the coal needs of their steel plant, Singh said: "ESCL is mulling import options, both foreign and domestic."

He added that the fate of the 2,000 workers was the government's lookout. "Let us wait," he stressed. "The ESCL has no role in this. The Union government must take some fast decisions on this issue."

Today, workers staging protests at Parbatpur coal block gates, including Shankar Parmanik, Rajendra Rajak, Madhusudan Rajwar, Phani Bhushan, Sudhir Mahto and several others, said they were local villagers who had been working here since last five years and received Rs 275 a day as wages.

"That stopped today. Everything has come to a full stop," one said.

"BCCL has taken over this block but they have shown no interest in coal mining. We do not know who will run this block. We only know we are jobless now, which means 2,000 workers and their families, which means at least 8,000 to 10,000 people don't know what they will eat in the coming days," another said.