AICCTU Fact-Finding Team Investigates BALCO Mishap

(Following the mishap in BALCO at Korba, Chhatisgarh, on 23 September, an AICCTU team visited BALCO on 24-25 September, to meet with injured workers and other workers who witnessed the mishap. The fact-finding team comprised of AICCTU leaders – Brijendra Tiwari from Bhilai, Pradeep Jha from Bihar and Devdip Singh Divakar from Jharkhand, as well as BALCO worker Abhishek. Excerpts from their observations.)
The team was informed that the accident took place at 3.45 pm on 23 September, when a 27 m high chimney collapsed totally. The place was engulfed in darkness following the accident. While BALCO workers and employees began relief work, the management and contractors were nowhere on the scene.
When we reached the spot, 41 workers’ bodies (mostly migrants) had been unearthed, while it was unsure how many more workers lay buried underneath the rubble, which is yet to be cleared. The team found that the chimney was being constructed hastily. 70 workers were working on the chimney itself, while many workers had sheltered in the canteen and office directly beneath the chimney, due to rains. One engineer working on the chimney had apparently raised questions about violations of safety norms, but he had been shunted aside. Another chimney next to the one that collapsed is also in danger now since the ground balance has been disturbed due to the accident. After the accident, contractors urged workers to return to their home states. Half the workers are yet to be paid their salary for the month of August. Examination of the rubble reveals that sub-standard materials were being used.
The BALCO management’s claim that the whole thing was a natural calamity due to a lightning strike is totally unacceptable. For one thing, a taller chimney stood next to it; for another, many tall iron structures stood on the site. Lightning would naturally strike a taller structure and also the iron pillars which are good conductors. Even if lighting were to have indeed struck the under-construction pillar, it would have travelled down the exposed iron rods sticking out on top of the chimney and travelled to the earth. How could that account for the collapse of the entire chimney?     
The team concluded that industrial accidents have grown thanks to rampant contractualisation and privatisation. Violation of safety norms and violation of labour laws go hand in hand – and governments and administration tend to be in collusion with these violations.
The team demanded: A high-level enquiry into the accident; Murder charges against BALCO management and contractors; Rs. 10 lakh each compensation as well as jobs to the dependents of workers who were killed; Best medical treatment and rehabilitation to the injured workers; An end to contractualisation and punishment for violators of safety and labour laws; Nationalisation of BALCO; Immediate redressal of all workers’ complaints.