Govt should ensure our pension, decent wages, says coal mine worker Sambhu Ram
- He works as a coal loader in an opencast mine in Jharia; as a daily wager, he is dependent on the work he gets every day.
Sambhu Ram, 38, is a coal worker in a company that outsources workers to Bharat Coking Coal Limited (BCCL) in Jharkhand’s Dhanbad district, and earns a meager ₹310 per day. Ram, a resident of Jharia in Jharkhand’s Dhanbad district, is the sole bread earner for a seven-member family.
He lives in thatched roof house with his parents, wife and three children.For about a month into the 68-day national lockdown imposed in March, Ram went through an acute financial crisis as he struggled to find mining jobs due to a drop in demand.
“I had only a little savings that I exhausted to buy basic amenities during the period. However, things returned to normalcy after outsourcing work started again,” he said.
He works as a coal loader in an opencast mine in Jharia; as a daily wager, he is dependent on the work he gets every day. “The first 20 days were very tough, as I could not understand how to feed my family. There was no work in the market,” he said. Coal mining was unaffected by the lockdown, but the demand was badly affected for the first quarter of this financial year.
Jharkhand has three big coal companies-Bharat Coking Coal Limited (BCCL), Central Coalfields Limited (CCL) and Eastern Coalfields Limited (ECL). Most of the companies saw their profits dip this year, despite significant recovery in the second half of the year.
“Coal mining remained unaffected due to Covid. However, demands had declined due to lockdowns in initial phases. The production was hit in first quarter but later it picked up. The production is still six percent less compared to last year,” said BCCL director (technical) Chanchal Goswami.
There is growing global pressure on India to announce a deadline for phasing out coal usage after China in September 2020 declared that it will stop coal usage by 2050. Coal, a fossil fuel, is considered the biggest emitter of carbon dioxide that causes climate change. India has not committed to phasing out coal usage and pointed out that the country’s per capita emission – the amount of energy a person uses in India -- is among the lowest in the world. Ram fears that his job can be jeopardised in the future and wants the government to continue coal mining. He hopes the Centre will provide social and job security to casual workers hired from contractors. “We want equal pay for equal work, insurance and provident fund benefits to be included in the upcoming budget,” Ram said.
Daily wage workers, hired on contract, do not enjoy any health insurance, provident fund, gratuity, minimum wage or pension. “Government should ensure decent wages,” Ram said.
Jharkhand holds some of India’s biggest coal reserves and contributes 32% to the country’s coal production. After agriculture, coal employs the most people in Jharkhand, and supports at least a million households, directly or indirectly. “In a bid to enhance coal production, most of the companies have engaged outsourcing agencies. More than 50 outsourcing companies are engaged in coal production engaged by the three coal companies. However, conditions of all workers of outsourcing companies are similar to Sambhu Ram,” said AK Jha, national secretary of Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC).
Goswami, however, denied the allegation, saying the company ensures minimum wage to workers engaged in outsourcing companies and also provides benefits such as provident fund and medical support.