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India - Chhattisgarh: When criminal negligence passes for ‘Industrial Accident’ - statement by PUDR

by PUDR, 3 February 2013

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People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR)

When criminal negligence passes for ‘Industrial Accident’

PUDR expresses grave shock at the tragic death of five workers in the accident at the Ambuja-Holcim cement plant in district Baloda Bazar, Chhattisgarh, on 31 January, 2013. The workers who lost their lives are Roshan Verma and Poshan Verma (apprentices from village Arjuni), Suresh Shukla and Kamleshwar Singh (permanent workers, from Ambuja Colony and village Bhadrapaali, respectively) and Durgesh (a contract worker from village Saiha). We express our deepest condolence to their families and fellow workers.

The accident occurred between 10.30 a.m. and 11 a.m when the fly-ash hopper situated on the fifth floor collapsed, and crashed through four floors below. The hopper was overloaded beyond capacity; while its capacity was 170 tonnes, it had been loaded with 300 tonnes. The hopper was also in a rundown condition and known to be unsafe. Worse still, the company had no safety measures to deal with fire or officials trained to carry out rescue after the accident. Trained personnel had to be called from the nearby cement plant of Ultratech to carry out rescue operations.

The company officials, in fact, compounded the problem by pouring water on the fly ash, making it even more difficult to remove the dead and injured from under the debris. Then, the entire effort of the management, local administration and police appears to have been to hush up the incident and not affix responsibility for it. Workers who rushed to help were ordered to leave. Family members were not permitted to go to the spot, nor were they shown the bodies of the deceased. Journalists were also not permitted inside the plant. The Collector and the SP, who had reached the plant after the accident, refused to answer calls or give any response. Shockingly, agitated villagers of Arjuni and Bhadrapaali who had gathered at the gates were lathi-charged and dispersed.

PUDR’s recent investigation and report on the conditions of cement workers in Chhattisgarh (Working Against Odds: Conditions of Workers in the Cement Industry in Chhattisgarh, 2012) testifies clearly how this accident was a direct outcome of the complete absence of safety measures, the lack of maintenance and the common practice of exposing workers to extremely hazardous work without any protection, preparation or rescue plan. In short, this amounts to criminal neglect. This ‘accident’ was thus waiting to happen; the culpability of Ambuja-Holcim, which has a 9.44% of the market share in the industry and ranks third amongst the top 10 cement manufacturers in India, is clearly indicated.

PUDR demands immediate independent investigation into this industrial accident at the Ambuja Holcim plant and indictment and criminal prosecution of the guilty, including the company, for its criminal neglect of safety measures. PUDR also demands that adequate and appropriate compensation be paid to the family members of all the workers killed in the accident or adversely affected by it in any manner.

Asish Gupta, D Manjit
Secretaries PUDR