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Greening Our Laws

The Coal Bearing Areas (Acquisition and Development) Act, 1957 provides minimal social and environmental safeguards, and deviates, in important ways, from India’s general land acquisition law. This article recommends updating land acquisition laws to bring coal under the general purview of the LARR. Sugandha

Coal : Deep in Trouble

Reforms in the coal sector seem once again to be heading nowhere. The bill to amend the Coal Mines (Nationalisation) Act, 1973, which was to be tabled in the ongoing winter session of parliament, has been deferred on the recommendation of the group of ministers. If the move was aimed at heading off the planned three-day strike called by the unions of state-owned coal companies, it did not succeed. The non-INTUC trade unions struck work at the mines of Coal India (CIL) and its seven subsidiaries nationwide, causing widespread disruption of production and dispatch. In addition to registering their opposition to the bill, the strike was also in protest against the non-payment of arrears as per the sixth national coal wage agreement. The unions are now reportedly planning to launch an indefinite agitation to press their demands. Considering that Eastern Coalfields (EIL) and Central Coalfields (CCL), two of CIL’s three loss-making subsidiaries, are believed to have suffered an estimated daily loss of Rs 50 crore and Rs 90 crore respectively during the strike, the unions’ move will deliver another blow to the struggling coal behemoth.

Pits and Profits

Lalbandh has been described as a desolate wasteland some 25 km from Asansol in West Bengal’s rich coal belt. It made newspaper columns in the eastern region last week when 30-odd miners were trapped in a coal mine that had long been declared closed. The mine used to be once operated by Eastern Coalfields, a subsidiary of Coal India, which subsequently closed the mine ostensibly because it had been mined out. But evidently that was not the case – the mine was being privately operated, illegally and clearly without regard to the health and safety of the miners. And the fact of its operation was widely known in the area, to the police, to the mine safety authorities, to the local district administration, etc. And yet when the mine subsided or collapsed last week, it was only after the relatives of the trapped miners raised a hue and cry that the local police and the mines safety authorities bestirred themselves to attempt rescue operations. It is now 10 days since the disaster occurred and there is little hope that any of the trapped workers will be rescued. Even extricating their bodies will be difficult because there is little information on the underground plan of the mine or where the miners were working. With no mandatory safety regulations in place – since this was an illegal operation – the miners who went underground knew full well the high risk of the operation. But in an area where employment opportunities are scarce, mining is the only livelihood, however risky and illegal the mines.

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