What now ?

Desperate measures are the call of the day. Common people need to have a greater say

Published: Saturday 15 July 2000

What now ?

"Colliery is in a coma. And only a change in the policy of the government - they must believe in self reliance in the coal sector - will ensure proper growth of the industry," says A K Roy, leader of Bihar Colliery Kamgar Union, Dhanbad. Several industry experts say the government should privatise a major part of the existing coalmines as this would help the government in reducing losses and the mines will be run on more professional lines. J L Srivastava, ccf (Wildlife), says: "If you are giving bonus for worker's inefficiencies, then no one can stop a company from making losses."

However, the trade union leader Roy - quite obviously - does not buy the idea of privatisation. He says it will create further problems for the workers. "Now they are talking about reverting to denationalisation. It is said that nationalisation has failed and collieries should either be closed or handed over to contractors and mafia.As if thing will move now backwards. A handful of people with vested interests want this so that they can enjoy a monopoly over natural resources," he raves.

It is of critical importance that the government comes out with a proper, clear mining policy. Nobody seems to have a clue about the present policy. J L Srivastava complains that the government is releasing forest areas for development work everyday. In such a scenario, any claim to maintaining 33 per cent of forest cover is living in a fool's paradise. Srivastava says the need of the hour is people's participation, without which the bureaucrats and politicians will continue in the same mode.

Dealing with fires and subsidence
About the issue of relocating people living in areas facing subsidence and fires, S P Singh, bccl 's director (technical), planning and projects, says, "If your coat is on fire, are you going to say 'I will put out the fire only if you give me a job' . The people of Jharia don't want to vacate the town before they get adequate compensation. Is it possible to provide 38,000 jobs."

And then there is the issue of land reclamation. "If you do proper planning you don't require a big amount for it. The land purchased can be sold after reclamation," points out N C Saxena. "We must concentrate on post-mining land use plan, which hardly exists in the country," he reckons. The government has to give top priority to reclaiming degraded lands through afforestation, says J L Srivastava.

T N Singh says that if proper electrostatic precipitators are used, the air pollution problem can be solved. "Most plants here claim that the precipitators are working properly. But I doubt if it is happening," says T N Singh. He warns that if the government does not make a proper plan at the earliest, a time will come when the land in jcf will start subsiding very fast as the sand stowing has not been done properly.

"There is no guideline for preparing environmental impact assessment studies for the coal industry," says the cmri scientist M K Chakraborty. "What should the eia include? There is no data," says he. Several people say most such studies are only conducted on paper.

There are more twists in the story than can be perceived. Yet everything to do with these issues is subdued and hushed. All of these issues need to be addresses if colliery in India is to get out of the coma it is in.

Reported by Manish Tiwari and Richard Mahapatra

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