Budhadev said, “I have given my 2.41 acres of land to this BSL through local administrations and I have no place to live now. That time BSL officials engaged me in their boundary wall construction with a daily wage of Rs. 80. As soon as the land transferred I was thrown out of work. BSL top officials say locals or Odiaas not wanted. Though we are qualified enough for technical jobs, we are denied jobs, and are engaged as daily worker with a paltry wage.”
“Though the BSL does not have a designated ash pond it dumped the ashes outside the company boundary wall illegally, even on the road side openly. But the district administration officials are mum. Our children in the villages are worst affected. Production of farms is down. Our hose damaged in blast but where are the officials? We think that neither the state government nor the district administration has considered us as part of their system. We are being deprived of basic necessities. For this BSL pollution, tortures, jobless are destroying our everyday life and we are fed up with BSL,” Pravati Sahu said.
Labour Secretary CTM Suguna and the Labour Commissioner Shalini Pandit have admitted in a press conference held on 21st November in Dhenkanal that there were lapses on the part of the State Government which led to frequent accidents in BSL.
They admitted that there was no monitoring mechanism as per the Factories Act of 1948 and Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act, 1946. These two top ranking officials also have admitted that since 2006-07, 69 cases have been filed in the SDJM court of Denkanal against BSL. But none of these cases have come out with any verdict.
The two top officials of the Labour department shared the figures of labours and workers present in the plant site at the time of furnace blast and the number of contractors and outsourcing agencies involved. As per their version 974 workers were present inside the plant and out of that it has been verified that 718 being alive has been verified. That means the department is yet to verify whether the rest 256 workers are alive or not.
While the well being of so many workers are yet to be ascertained, there is no mechanism in place for the family members of the laborers to enquire. No control/enquiry facility has been set up by the labor department, BSL or the District Administration. The laborers engaged here come from outside the state from remote areas and do not have the habit of calling back their homes on a regular basis. So the enquiries are only trickling in.
While the Labor Secretary was holding the press conference at Dhenkanal to take the blame on the laxity in government monitoring her transfer orders were being signed. This has not gone well with the intelligentsia in the state. If she has been the person responsible for the total mess on the government side, in the first place she should have been at the least suspended.
If she was not responsible, then what the state government is trying to achieve by transferring an officer at the helm of affairs at such difficult times? Her transfer has raised more questions than answered. But the vine yard has a different version. After Labor Minister Bijayshree Routrays statement that the departments is not carrying forward his instructions and ask the CM, transfer of Ms. Suguna is a face saving effort by the state government.
While the government has started hushing up of the whole issue, there also is a parallel campaign going on to stop shutting down of second furnace. On 21st November Odisha State Pollution Control Board sealed the a 256 MW power plant, a cold rolling mill and he second blast furnace those were functioning illegally.
Bhusan had already started a campaign to not to seal the furnace to allow time for BSL to take some safe guard measures to ensure that no further tragedy takes place due to the molten metal in the furnace. The company has been arguing that if continuous blowing in process is not allowed in the furnace it may lead to production of toxic gases.
But the OSPCB officials do not buy this idea that also has the backing of some of the experts in the field. OSPCB Member Secretary has phoo phooed such claims as a desperate bid by BSL to protect its investment.
While both the state government and Bhusan are on the run for defense, the interventions by the Union Minister of State for Labour Kodikunnil Suresh and the public interest litigations filed in the Odisha High Court has posed new challenges for them. Addressing a press conference in Bhubaneswar on 19th November Mr Suesh had said “I have instructed Deputy Chief Labour Commissioner to visit the plant and submit a report.”
And he also has laid the turf perfectly by saying “The labour issue is concurrent one. While the Union government deals with labour issues concerning to Central public sector, all other labor issues come under the State government. However, the labor issues could be taken up at our level if serious violation is not dealt properly at the State government level. As of now, we have not received any complaint from any Central trade unions in this regard.”
As if on a cue, the members of the Central trade unions led by AITUC state secretary Souribandhu Kar have visited Kantabania, the plant site. The Union leaders have demanded for the resignation of the Industries minister and the labor minister in the wake of the explosion at BSL. They also have demanded for judicial inquiry in the incident to ascertain the exact number of casualties.
The left parties like the CPI, CPM, Forward Block and Samajwadi Party have sought judicial probe into the incident, through a memorandum to the Chief Minister. In another development a PIL by the secretary of National Lawyers’ Forum in the Odisha High Court seeking a CBI probe into the incident poses a greater threat for the state government as well as Bhusan.
But will the Bhusan comply with the judiciary? In the context of the recent accident, the OSPCB had filed two cases in the court of SDJM, Dhenkanal. The two officers did not appear in the court on the summons, nor did make any representation through their lawyer. So the court has issued non-bailable warrants in their name.