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Five cement workers killed at Ambuja-Holcim in India

1 February, 2013IndustriALL Global Union affiliated cement contract workers trade union PCSS in India reported a deadly accident on 31 January that killed five workers in Bhatapara, Chhattisgarh India.

Sudha Bharadwaj, a legal adviser of the contract workers union PCSS stated:

On hearing of the accident, Shri Kalyan Singh Patel, PCSS General Secretary immediately sent two members (whose names are being withheld for their protection) along with a legal advisor to the site. Since no persons including journalists were being permitted inside the plant, there was heavy police deployment and the Collector and Superintendent of Police though present on the spot were not receiving calls, only preliminary fact finding could be conducted on the basis of discussion with workers, farmers of Arjuni and Bhadrapali and the relatives of the deceased workmen.

PCSS reported that the accident took place sometime between 10.30 and 11am on 31 January 2013. The fly ash hopper situated on the 5th floor collapsed, crashing through 4 floors. The air was thick with dust for hours.

The five workers to have died are:
1. Roshan Verma, apprentice, Arjuni Village
2. Poshan Verma, apprentice, Arjuni Village
3. Suresh Shukla, permanent worker, Ambuja Colony.
4. Kamleshwar Singh, permanent worker, Bhadrapaali Village
5. Durgesh, contract worker, Saiha Village

Reports suggest that the capacity of the hopper was 170 tonnes but it was overloaded, possibly to about 300 tonnes. The hopper was in a dilapidated condition and in fact had possibly been sealed by the authorities during a raid a number of months ago.

There was no fire protection in the plant and no specially trained rescue officers to deal with this accident. In fact for the rescue, trained personnel had to be called from the nearby plant of Ultratech cement.

The company had poured 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. Family members were not permitted to go to the spot and were also not shown the bodies of the deceased.

Villagers of Arjuni and Bhadrapaali had gathered at the gates and were demanding to be let in. One youth scaled the gate and was badly beaten up by the company security. On seeing this, the villagers became agitated and started shouting slogans. They were forcibly dispersed. It is clear that despite making enormous profits the company clearly cuts corners on maintenance and wages.

A PCSS team visited the accident site on 2 February and managed to initiate a criminal case against the management, leading initially to the arrest of a security officer, and then to three other arrests under laws governing negligence with machinery, endangering life or personal safety and causing death by negligence, those arrested included Ambuja Vice-President Sanjay Kumar Badopadhyay. The arrests though were made light charges and all detainees were able to post bail and leave custody within a single day.

The PCSS team visited families of the deceased workmen in Arjuni and Bhadrapali. Holcim has frozen production at the plant and agreed to compensate victim’s families financially plus by employing a member of each victim’s family, as well as the statutory compensation.

See Swiss-based trade union affiliate UNIA’s 6 February press release on the accident in French here.