Most of the protesting workers are tribal people who were displaced from their land by the Bandhuhurang mining project
Police resorted to lathi-charging retrenched workers of Uranium Corporation of India Limited’s (UCIL) Bandhuhurang mines on Thursday. The workers had been holding sit-in protest since November 11. Around five workers were injured. Police also forcibly removed protesting labourers from the agitation site.
Around 351 workers, majority of them displaced by the mining project, were retrenched in November (Badhuhurang has the country’s first open cast uranium mines). These labourers had been peacefully protesting against the retrenchment. Their grievance was also highlighted during the winter session of Jharkhand Assembly.
Striking workers claimed that UCIL had promised jobs to people displaced by the mines. But those who were given jobs were removed in a phased manner by the mining major. Things reached a flashpoint when 351 workers were asked to quit.
Arjun Samad, an activist of Josh, a non-profit working for the welfare of UCIL workers said: “From the chief minister to the labour commissioner, several leaders and officials of the state made attempts to resolve the stalemate.” But it continued and tribal workers organised a sit-in in front of the mines gate to seek justice.
Activists pointed out that earlier UCIL was refusing to hire labourers from the displaced families. “They were hiring labourers but not from the among the people displaced by the project,” Samad added. Earlier this year, agitating labourers under the supervision of local administration reached a consensus with UCIL that priority would be given to labourers and youth belonging to families who were displaced by the project.
It was also decided that the gram pradhan would identify the labourers from among the displaced. But barely few months after the agreement, UCIL retrenched these workers. The situation turned volatile after the company decided to hire contractual workers instead of retrenched workers.
Atul Bajpai, UCIL spokesperson in Jharkhand, said the police action was the result of clash between two factions of the agitating labourers. Police intervened to maintain the law and order situation. “UCIL has no role in the police action,” he said.
UCIL has been witnessing severe labour unrest in the recent months. Labourers at Turamdih mines stalled the work after two senior functionaries of labour union, Raju Kunkal and Sagar Besra, were terminated on charges of assaulting a labourer Shoma Diggi.
Enraged over the termination of services of two senior union leaders, workers stalled mining operation for over 10 days at Turamdih mines. The stalemate was resolved after the intervention of Jamshedpur MP, Ajoy Kumar earlier in the week.
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