Chhattisgarh: Another accident in the cement industry, or rather criminal negligence ?

December 2, 2014

statement from Pragatisheel Cement Shramik Sangh

On Sunday, 23rd November, at about 8pm, the newly constructed (10 month old) clinker silo of the expansion plant of Ultratech Cement (earlier called Grasim Cement) in Village Raavan, District Baloda Bazar, containing 6000 metric tonnes of hot clinker collapsed over the workers of “Haji Baba Constructions” who had been repairing a crack in it. The silo was 200 metres in diameter and supported an 11 metre high iron structure, it fell from a height of 35 metres. (This is the fifth incident in the last two months in this plant awarded for “Zero accidents”, in which two workers died, one had an arm fractured, and one had both eyes damaged.)

Immediately after the collapse, the Plant management closed the main gates. The management claimed that they did not know which workers working in that area, which might also have included some workers from the night shift. Journalists found that the relevant page of the Entry Register was torn, and the work permit bearing the names of the workers was “not traceable”. Agitated workers and villagers demanded that the rubble be removed and the removal be videotaped since they apprehended that more workers could be buried, the management in response cordoned off the area with its security staff. According to the workers 13-17 workers might have been working in the area and they are suspecting that up to 5 persons to be buried. Even till Wednesday morning the work of removing the rubble had not been commenced.

8 gravely injured workers – Vipin Patel (Welder), Dinesh (Fitter), Anil Kumar (Welder), Kamlesh (Khalasi), Ajay Kumar (Fitter), Ravi (Welder), Seetaram Rahni (Rigger), and Ramsujan Singh (Fabrication) were referred to two hospitals in Raipur. According to Dr Sunil Khemkha of Sri Narayana Hospital, Ajay Gupta, with serious injuries in both legs had to be operated on and his legs have been partially amputated.

Recently the same contractor Haji Baba Constructions was responsible for an accident in ACC Bargarh. Despite this, the contractor has been given work in Ambuja- Holcim plant in Village Rawaan and in the ACC Expansion Plant in Jamul. No one has been apprehended in any criminal case so far. It is pertinent that even in the case of the Ambuja Cement accident in which 5 workers died a year back, the Enquiry Report has not yet been made public.

Representatives of various unions working in the cement industry, including independent unions and unions affiliated with INTUC have given a memorandum to the Labour Secretary demanding
a) Rubble and clinker at the accident site should be removed immediately under government supervision and the process videotaped. Union representatives should be allowed to be present.
b) Management must be asked to produce all records regarding workers entering the factory since Saturday and verification of the workers be conducted.
c) A case of criminal negligence be registered against the management and contractors responsible and the officers responsible be arrested.
d) Haji Baba Constructions be blacklisted and its work proceeding in other factories be stopped.
e) All injured workers should be made permanent in the company, be treated at company expense until they recover, and be given suitable employment according to their disability. Alternatively their family members should be provided permanent employment.
f) Adequate compensation must be given for permanent injuries and disabilities.

After the incident there were massive protests at ACC Jamul, district Durg and Century Cement, Baikunth, district Raipur. This accident is likely to figure prominently in the issues taken up by workers in their state wide demonstration on 5th December 2014

Lakhan Sahu, Ramakant Banjare (Pragatisheel Cement Shramik Sangh)