Villages face hard times after de-allocation of mines

Raigarh (Chhatisgarh), July 2 (IANS) For 34-year-old Sadhram Sidar, the only solace now is the two-odd acres of farming land he owns. That’s the only possession he has he can fall back on in tough times like these, when he is out of work for months after the de-allocation of mines on grounds of irregularities.

He is lucky to have that piece of land, because many others in his village – Raipara near Tamnar town in Raigarh district of Chhattisgarh, 300 miles from capital Raipur – don’t even have that much. They only have whatever little savings they could make while working at the nearby Gare-Palma coal mines.

But whether Sidar would be able to sustain his family of five by cultivating the land will depend much on the rain god’s mercy. There is no provision of irrigation and even drinking water is scarce.

These men – thousands of them in total from all the nearby villages – have been out of work since March. How long can their savings see them through is anybody’s guess.

Nobody has driven these men out of the mines. They are out of work because the two mines – earlier with Jindal Steel and Power Limited (JSPL) – had been de-allocated, besides 200 other mines, by the Supreme Court last September. The central government held auctions for the de-allocated coal mines in February and March.

JSPL won the bid at Rs.108/tonne but the government cancelled this, saying the price was too low and that it suspected foul play. The matter is sub-judice and the arguments from both the sides justifying their respective stands make for a separate story.

Meanwhile, the mines have been handed over to Coal India Limited (CIL). However, CIL has not started the operations as yet in the mines, with a combined capacity of 6.25 milllion tonnes per annum. The only thing going on at the site is fire-fighting – literally, because the fires have been burning in the region for the past few months. Coal worth millions of rupees has turned into ashes in the absence of proper fire-fighting equipment and lack of workforce.

The fire is more worrisome for the nearby villagers than it would be for the environmentalists and authorities, because the former earn their livelihood here.

“My elder son who is four now, goes to an English medium school in (nearby) Talaipara. The monthly expenses are around Rs.500,” Shankarlal Yadav told IANS.

Yadav, 28, from Raipara village, had been employed at the mines as a blaster, earning somewhere around Rs.7,000 per month. That’s the average monthly income for coal mine worker here.

That’s probably low by the standards of a metro, but it has brought unprecedented comfort in the lives of these people, who otherwise have very little to call their own.

JSPL has also set up a coal washery of 800 tonnes per hour capacity beside the mines, which feeds the 3400 MW Jindal power plant through a 7-km-long pipe conveyer belt. The plant is connected with the power grid through a 258 km, 400 KV Double Circuit transmission line from the plant to the PGCIL sub-station at Raipur.

While 21-year-old Jagatpal Sidar is pursuing his B.A. (2nd year) from Naveen Mahavidyalaya apart from acquainting himself with computers, he is not planning to migrate to a big city for employment. For him, these facilities offer enough employment opportunities. “I am studying and would like to work with JSPL some day. There is enough work here, why should I think of moving out,” Sidar told IANS.

On the way from Tamnar to Raigarh town, there is hardly any traffic these days. A moving truck now and then breaks the monotony of the view of idling dumpers on the roadside. Many transporters have already sent their loaders away to other districts. Every single day without work hurts their pockets badly.

There is little hope for the people of the region, at least for the next few months as there will be no mining for around two months at all once the monsoon sets in. Meanwhile, the workers continue to eat off their savings.

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