Skip to main content

Haryana mining accidents reflect 'high-risk' hazards faced by India's quarry workers

By Bharat Dogra* 

Rockfalls on April 23 and 24 in Dadam mining area (Bhiwani district of Haryana) resulted in the death of two more workers. The fact that such an accident occurred in the same mining belt which had only recently witnessed a widely reported and terrible accident in which workers died and several were injured on January 1 this year would appear to indicate that the authorities have just not cared to learn from past mistakes.
According to initial reports although mining had been stopped in the precise area where the previous accident had taken place, the miners had tried to make up for this by excessive, unsafe mining in other parts of the mining belt, leading to this latest accident. It is extremely unfortunate that this happened despite so much attention being drawn to the widely prevalent risks in this mining belt, the result of years of reckless exploitation violating safety and environmental concerns.
On the morning of January 1, in Dadam area of Bhiwani district, Haryana, a huge portion of a hill being mined for its stone fell down with a very loud blast. While death of 5 workers was confirmed in this accident, serious concern has been expressed that a higher number of workers may have been buried under big stones. What could be seen immediately was that the stones which fell from a big height were so huge that several dumpers and machines were buried under this.
Senior leaders of this region had told media at that time that this area has been ravaged badly by a mining mafia, that it is dominated by goons who keep away outsiders so that safety violations in mines can be overlooked. They said that digging to excessive depths at several places could have destabilized the hills resulting in the big fall on January 1.
Published reports have held out the possibility that due to increase in price of construction materials there was a rush for meeting some big supply orders and so excessive blasting was used to get quick supplies, ignoring essential precautions.
Keeping in view this situation, there was need for introducing much wider and stricter safety provisions, but obviously this has been ignored, resulting in more fatal accidents. One hopes that at least this second tragedy will awaken the authorites to to need for wider and stricter safety steps.
The Dadam accidents also draw attention to some wider and persisting problems of stone quarrying in India. The most widespread mining and quarrying relates to supplying stone to construction sector. Since this is widely scattered in the country and is frequently in the informal sector, complete and reliable records are difficult to obtain but clearly it is very widespread and despite some legal restrictions placed from time to time, on the whole this has been expanding fast to meet the growing needs of the construction industry.
In many cases stone crushing units are set up close to these mining and quarrying works and so their combined impact must be considered. This work is often done in conditions which cause serious harm to the health of workers, to environment and quite often also the farming of nearby areas. All of this is avoidable to a large extent.
If this mining and quarrying had been developed keeping in view all important considerations of health, environment protection and welfare of workers as well as nearby villagers, then this sector could have become an important source of livelihood support . Unfortunately these considerations have been neglected resulting in such mining getting associated more with accentuation of water scarcity and ecological ruin, exploitation of workers and increasing problems for neighboring villagers.
One particular day I remember in this context is when I visited several villages located near stone quarrying sites in Mahoba district (Uttar Pradesh) and heard several farmers say that their farming is being ruined by the dust and water scarcity created by mining units and stone crushers. Several had been injured.
On the way back we passed a mining site and were asked to stop. We as well others commuting on this road were asked to stop as dynamite blast to facilitate mining was about to take place and stone pieces could reach here at a furious place even though the road was some distance away. We were asked to take cover and I stood behind hind a car.
Mining is controlled by local elites who have followed harmful practices and damaged sustainability of mines and quarries
After some time I could see some small stones flying around at some distance very furiously. If this had hit someone in an exposed part like head or face one shudders to think of the consequences. I kept thinking of the risk of injury faced by those who live in the shadow of such mining and all its dust as well.
Some of these problems have been documented also in the Human Development Report for Bundelkhand prepared under the Niti Ayog-UNDP Project on Human Development. This report has made several observations about the mining and quarrying sector ( mainly stone and sand) in Bundelkhand region.
First of all, it says that there are bonded labor type working conditions in these mines and quarries (or the attached crushers).
Secondly, working conditions are poor and several unsafe and hazardous practices are followed. Accidents often take place and compensation payment is generally not given. Lung diseases, silicosis and other diseases have been a big problem for workers and their families. There is no risk-cover, no protective gear, no medical facilities. The police is not supportive and does not register cases, this report says.
Thirdly, child labour exists in mines and child workers also toil in unsafe conditions.
Fourthly, mining is controlled by local elites who have followed harmful practices and damaged sustainability of mines and quarries. The entire work takes place in quasi-legal conditions with collusion of mafia and political bosses. There is hardly any adherence to environmental laws. Dynamite is frequently used and there is high risk from falling stones for nearby villagers.
These observations of the Human Development Report for Bundelkhand are of a serious nature and the authorities should take important steps for improving the situation with a sense of urgency. Earlier the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) had sent a team to Patha area of Bundelkhand. This writer too was a member of this team.
The report prepared by this team had also mentioned several aspects of this system of exploitation and the existence of high-risk, hazardous conditions in mining and crushing units. Hence clearly there is enough evidence on the basis of which action against exploitative systems should be taken so that much-needed relief can come to the workers toiling in highly exploitative and hazardous conditions in the mines and quarries of Bundelkhand as well as other areas.
One important aspect is to extend special help to all workers or their families suffering from the dust-related disease of silicosis as orders of the Supreme Court have already resulted in provision for such help. Rajasthan has a good record in ensuring that this help reaches deserving workers. Some organizations in Rajasthan like the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) have done good work in taking these benefits to people.
Secondly, at least at some places experimental projects of stone mining which avoid health and environmental hazards and exploitation of workers should be launched. These should be in the form of small units of local workers including women who work on a small scale observing all precautions, avoiding use of heavy machines and dynamite. 
Lessons learnt in the course of such projects can be helpful in formulating proper policy.
---
*Honorary convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include ‘Man Over Machine’ and ‘Planet in Peril’

Comments

TRENDING

'Halt Covid-19 vaccination drive': Indian doctors join campaign across 36 nations

By Rosamma Thomas*  A group of Spanish doctors first got together to call for a halt to the Covid-19 vaccinations, and doctors from other countries too later joined them – there are now over 12,000 doctors from India, Portugal, Canada, Hungary, South Africa, Israel and a host of other nations who have issued a call to halt vaccinations. On September 10, a group of Indian doctors came together to address the press over a webinar to explain why they thought the vaccination drive should end forthwith. Dr Amitav Banerjee, who after a career as an epidemiologist in the Indian Army now teaches at a private medical college in Pune, said there was no longer a medical emergency. Children are at low risk of infection, and there is good reason to halt vaccination and conduct proper research, given the high number of adverse events. There is a sudden and poorly explained spike in the number of young and healthy people dying. While it may be impossible to attribute deaths entirely to the vaccinatio

Did Mother Teresa trivialise poverty? 'You are suffering, that means Jesus is kissing you'

By Harsh Thakor*  The world commemorated the 25th death anniversary of Mother Teresa on September 5. Whatever her flaws, she rendered service to humanity in regions almost untranscended, resembling the relentless spirit of the waves of an ocean. Irrespective of community or religion, she offered her service. Even those not drawn by sainthood revere the role of Mother Teresa. For 68 years, she had worked selflessly and tirelessly in India and elsewhere in the world, taught the destitute, healed the sick, fed and clothed the poor, cared for abandoned children, housed lepers and those afflicted with HIV/AIDS and offered dignity in death to desolate persons abandoned by family and society. Mother Teresa was born in Skopje in 1910 to an Albanian family as AnjezĂ« Gonxhe Bojaxhiu. She became wedded to religious vows at an early age and moved to India to join the missionary work of the Catholic Church. Heartshaken by the misery faced by the Indian masses, in 1950 she set up her own

Tracing roots of Hindutva Zionism: cannon fodder for 'warped' nationalist pretensions

By Shamsul Islam*  Those who believe in a world free of hegemonic ethno-nationalism, racism, religious bigotry and hatred have rightly taken note of Zionism and its ally Christian Zionism, major perpetrators of ethnic cleansing of ‘Others’. However, the civilized world with its core belief in multi-culturalism and peaceful co-existence is oblivious to a no less dangerous threat to the present human civilization: the Hindutva Zionism. As the term reads it is part of the Hindutva world-view which stands for an exclusive Hindu India minus Muslims and Christians. The other religions like Sikhism, Buddhism, and Jainism will have no independent status but treated as part of Hinduism. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS; National Volunteer Organization) is the most prominent flag-bearer of the Hindutva politics whose cadres presently rule India, the largest democracy in the world. RSS was founded by Keshav Baliram Hedgewar (1889-1940) in 1925 who was disillusioned with the Indian freedom st

Regional parties, anti-Congress progressives, civil society groups 'joining' Bharat Jodo

By Harshavardhan Purandare, Sandeep Pandey*  The Congress party declared Bharat Chhodo (Quit India) movement against the British regime in 1942. The Congress party has now launched a movement Bharat Jodo (Connecting and Uniting India) against the Modi regime in 2022. Indian people have had a journey of 80 years since Mahatma Gandhi gave that Quit India call to the British and we have to agree that we stand most divided in our modern history when Rahul Gandhi is giving this Bharat Jodo call to the nation. And back then, Congress was a thriving idealistic political movement against the British rulers and now it is an ever weakening political organization electorally defeated several times. However, it is India at stake, not just the Congress party. That is why so many regional political parties, civil society organizations, traditional anti-Congress progressive forces like socialists and communists, intellectuals and civil servants have declared their support and are proactively partici

Shocking? No Covid vaccine trials conducted on pregnant, lactating women: RTI reply

By Rosamma Thomas*  A Right to Information applicant who sought details of safety trials conducted in India on pregnant and lactating women for three Covid vaccines in use in India – Covishield, Covaxin and ZyCov-D -- was shocked to learn from the Central Drugs Standard Control Organization (CDSCO) that Serum Institute, manufacturer of Covishield, and Cadila Healthcare, manufacturer of the ZyCov-D vaccine, had not sought permission for such trials.  Bharat Biotech, manufacturer of Covaxin, had sought permission for trial on pregnant women and later withdrawn its application. This response , provided after the applicant was initially unsatisfied with the response and went in appeal, is from the joint drugs controller, CDSCO. It was dated September 13, 2022. One researcher closely following the vaccine rollout, however, is of the opinion that the lack of a trial on pregnant and lactating women is a blessing; potential trial participants and their unborn babies thus escaped harm. Aruna Ro

Grave error? Scholar blames ex-Gujarat babu for anti-Christian riots 'citing fake report'

By Rajiv Shah  A few days back, I received a message from one of the finest former Gujarat government bureaucrats, PG Ramrakhiani, a 1964 batch IAS official, who retired in November 2000. I would often interact with him in 1997-99, even later, after I was sent to Gandhinagar as a Times of India man to cover Sachivalaya. Those were turbulent times. Shankarsinh Vaghela was the Gujarat chief minister, under attack from two sides – from the BJP, which he had left to form a separate breakaway party, Rashtriya Janata Party (RJP), one one hand, and the Congress, which was supporting him from outside, on the other. Ramrakhiani, in his message, referred to the book authored by Ghanshyam Shah and Jan Breman, both top-notch scholars who have known Gujarat in and out. Called “Gujarat, Cradle and Harbinger of Identity Politics: India’s Injurious Frame of Communalism”, I reviewed the book in January 2022.  It claims that Muslims in Gujarat have been turned into “new untouchables”, thanks to the Hin

Excess to cheetah in Kuno to increase 'woes' of local people, 'disturb' wildlife balance

Bharat Dogra*  The release of eight cheetahs into the Kuno National Park ( Madhya Pradesh) by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on September 17, although accompanied by a media blitz, has raised several questions. The animals were flown from Namibia to Gwalior and from there they were taken to the release site in a helicopter. Official sources have stated that this is the first time a large carnivorous species has been moved across continents for establishing a new population. This first release will be followed by others under this project. However, precisely for this reason, it is important to be cautious because if such translocations have been generally avoided in the past, there may have been reasons for this and at the same time we do not have much learning experiences from the past. The Cheetah became extinct in India in 1952, although this very fast moving animal is still remembered in the folklore of many areas. Hence the first impulse is to say that trying to introduce and revive

Introducing non-native cheetahs is 'not equivalent' to restoring pride in the nation

By Bappaditya Mukhopadhyay*  The Cheetahs from the African continent has finally been introduced to India by the Indian Prime Minister on his 72nd birthday. The process had started with the previous Government in 2009. However, the Supreme Court clearance was pending owing to the objection by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) plea to reintroduce cheetahs. Finally the clearance was obtained in January 2020 and thereafter Kuno National Park (KNP) was chosen for the reintroduction of first set of Southeast African Cheetahs. In the near future, depending upon the success story of the current reintroduction, more cheetahs from South Africa may also be introduced. This exercise has generated a lot of interest among various stakeholders with opinions on both sides galore. It is important to pose some questions that surround the whole exercise. Let us evaluate some of these arguments. The first set of arguments are quite detached from the issues of conservation as they most

'Military diplomacy': US praises Bangladesh Army for leadership role in UN operations

By Kamal Uddin Mazumder* As the Indo-Pacific region represents the world’s economic and strategic center of gravity, the Indian Ocean today is becoming the centerpiece of all geo-strategic play. Cooperation in the region is crucial to implementing the international community’s global agenda, including achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Major powers like the US have enhanced and deepened their strategic engagement and leadership roles with countries in the region. The Indo-Pacific Army Management Seminar, or IPAMS, is a U.S. Army Pacific (USARPAC) initiated conference that is aimed at facilitating and enhancing interactions among the armies of the Indo-Pacific region. This year's 46th Indo-Pacific Armies Management Seminar (IPAMS)-2022, co-hosted by the Bangladesh Army and US Army Pacific (USARPAC), concluded in Dhaka. The objective of IPAMS is to promote peace and stability in the region through mutual understanding, dialogue, and friendship. It is the largest confer

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".