When criminal negligence passes for ‘Industrial Accident’
People's Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) expresses grave shock and demands action against those responsible for the industrial accident at the Ambuja-Holcim cement plant near Raipur, Chhattisgarh, on 31 January 2013, in which 5 workers have been killed. The names of the workers who died are Roshan Verma and Poshan Verma, apprentice (both apprentices from village Arjuni), Suresh Shukla and Kamleshwar Singh (both permanent workers, from Ambuja Colony and village Bhadrapaali respectively), and Durgesh (a contract worker from village Saiha).
The accident which occurred between 10.30 a.m. and11a.m., took place when the fly-ash hopper situated on the fifth floor collapsed, and crashed through four floors below. Eyewitnesses report that the air was thick with dust for hours. According to reports the cause of the accident was that the hopper was overloaded beyond capacity – while the capacity of the hopper was 170 tonnes it had been loaded with a weight of 300 tonnes. Moreover, the hopper was in a rundown condition and known to be unsafe. Despite this it appears that the management not only continued to operate the hopper, but overloaded it, and did not have any safety measures to deal with fire or officials equipped or 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 Ambuja-Holcim company officials had in fact compounded the problem by pouring water on the fly ash making it set and making it difficult to remove the dead and injured from under the debris. The workers who had rushed to help were all ordered to go away. Moreover the family members of those killed 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 after the accident. The Collector and the Superintendent of Police who had reached the plant after the accident, also refused to answer calls or throw light on the matter. Agitated villagers of Arjuni and Bhadrapaali who had gathered at the gates were lathi-charged and dispersed. It is a matter of concern that the entire effort of the management and local civil and police administration appears to be to hush up the incident and not affix responsibility for it.
As even the broad details of this case and PUDR’s recent investigation and report on the conditions of cement workers in Chattisgarh (Working Against Odds: Conditions of Workers in the Cement Industry in Chattisgarh, 2012) shows this accident was a direct consequence of the complete absence of safety measures in the plant, the lack of maintenance and the common practice of exposing workers to extremely hazardous work without any protection, preparation or rescue plan amounts to criminal neglect. This ‘accident’ was thus waiting to happen, and the culpability of the company 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, 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.