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PUCL Bulletin, May 2004

Public hearing on violations of rights of workers at Kolar gold fields

– A report by Justice H. Suresh, Dr. Jeevan Kumar, Geetha Menon, Advocate Manohar Hosea, (SICHREM)

The public hearing, organized by South India Cell for Human Rights Education and Monitoring (SICHREM), took place on 21st February 2004 in the PWD Guest House in Kolar Gold Fields (KGF). The jury panel was headed by Justice H. Suresh (Retd) and other members were Dr. Jeevan Kumar, Ms. Geetha Menon, and Advocate Manohar Hosea. At the request of the District Human Rights Centre-Kolar (DHRC), we the undersigned members of the jury panel visited KGF and held a public hearing of the affected persons and other concerned citizens of KGF. Also, the jury panel visited Kennedy’s Block, KNJS Block, R.D. Block Marikuppam, being the residential areas of the mine workers. We recorded the statements of about 40 affected victims of human rights violations and also other concerned citizens namely the trade unions, NGOs, linguistic minority groups, political parties, and Dalit organizations.

Currently, KGF is where the three-hundred-year old recorded history of the gold mines came to a grinding halt in April 2000, throwing into poverty and unemployment about 3,800 workers in a town bustling with 300,000 people. KGF is one of the only sites of gold production in the country. The mines were operated by the Central Public Sector Undertaking (CPSU) called Bharat Gold Mines Limited (BGML). As the mines were being systematically closed, the state made no moves for survival of the mines, or for an alternate employment for these BGML workers or for any rehabilitation of the persons affected by such closure.

Worst violations of human rights
What we witnessed and heard clearly spells out large-scale violations of human rights of all the workers and persons within the KGF area. Broadly all the workers who lived in KGF for generations together, have not only lost their livelihood, but also have lost everything that goes along with life. They lost their jobs, they lost their earnings, and worst of all, they lost their right to live with human dignity.

The following are the glaring violations of human rights:
A) Loss of jobs
Workers lost their jobs altogether without compensation or alternate rehabilitation scheme whatsoever. As we understand, neither the management nor the government made any genuine efforts to comply with the requirements of law.

B) Disconnection of water supply
Witness after witness deposed before us that on the closure of KGF, the management disconnected the water supply and electricity. This resulted firstly in lack of adequate water supply for drinking, for washing, and for other daily consumption. People have no choice but to buy water from outside agencies. We are told that each bucket of water costs Rs. 1.25/- and they are just not in a position to buy water as it has become an additional burden for them. Secondly, women and children stand in long queues to fetch water from the place where it is supplied. Thirdly, we found that on certain days, water being supplied from the water tank is accumulated from the mines, which are not potable at all.

C) Overflowing toilets
We are told that there are about 248 public toilets, but there is no water supply. We have seen some of the toilets, which have not been cleaned for the last several months. The outlet drainage and pits are completely blocked, so much so that they are overflowing with human excreta and people are unable to use the toilets. The smell around is nauseating and no human being should be compelled to live in such areas. We understand that the carrying of night soil system was in vogue there till recently, which itself was a violation of human dignity, but even that has been discontinued. We further find that the worst sufferers are women who are forced to use the toilets, while men can go in the open to answer the call of nature.

D) Likely outbreak of epidemics
The lack of sanitation and hygiene will result in outbreaks of epidemics, like Cholera, Malaria, etc. and the government and the local authorities do not seem to be worried about this.

E) Accumulation of garbage
The continuous mining activity for the last 100 years in this area has resulted in the accumulation of huge dumps of mining waste (mill-tailings) occupying about 10% of the total area of the township. Besides occupying about 10% of the total land in the township these tailing dumps rise to a height of about 30m from ground level amidst the human settlements and are considered polluting with cases of cyanide poisoning occurring.
We were told that while there was Rs. 45,000/- sanctioned by the government for garbage cleaning, on the other side we witnessed that there were large piles of garbage surrounding the areas of these populations. We were also told that while the municipal authorities were ready to clean the garbage, there was a lack of cooperation by the Karnataka Government in releasing adequate funds.

F) Closure of hospital
We were also told that immediately after closure of the mines, one of the hospitals, the BGML hospital, the only hospital available to the workers, was closed. With this result, the residents now have to go to private hospitals that are more costly and they cannot afford that. It appears that there were dispensaries which have also been closed down. Widows of former mine workers spoke of their hardships and tragedies that occurred while they were transporting their sick husbands to other hospitals much further away. These husbands died in transit and this could have been avoided, had the BGML hospital stayed open. We also found that in the areas where the workers are living there is not even a center for primary healthcare.

G) Deaths due to stress
After closure of the mines, about 60 deaths of former mine workers were reported. A large number of these deaths were caused by the health hazards due to the mining environment and the lack of adequate health facilities. Many widows told that the deaths of their husbands were also caused by the stress and mental agony due to their sudden unemployment and inability to take care of their families.

H) Lack of provisions for ration shops
Before the closure, the company had provided rations to the population. With the closing of the mines, the daily rations came to a stop. As at present, there are no ration shops for these workers and there is no proper provision for distribution of rice and grains through any Public Distribution System (PDS). To buy their food requirements, the open market has put an additional burden on them. We are also told that occasionally certain bags of grain are given to some of the areas, and they are simply thrown among the residents resulting in a stampede and in one instance, it resulted in a death of one of the residents.

I) Efforts to earn one’s livelihood
Since the government has not come forward with any alternate scheme of jobs, people on their own are making efforts to survive. Daily, about 6,000 people, mostly women and youth, make the long and arduous journey in over-crowded trains to Bangalore City where they earn meager salaries of Rs. 800- 1000 per month, which is not enough to make a living. As a result of this daily travel from KGF to Bangalore Urban, most of their time is spent traveling leaving them no time to spend with their families or on other daily tasks. As far as the women folk are concerned, they collect firewood from different parts and collect about Rs. 12/- per bundle. Even if people want to work, there is no alternative for employment as the soil is not fit for agriculture; the petty businesses once run by the women during the mining times have gone out of business, and there are no other industries or sectors that can accommodate the former mining workers within KGF.

J) Denial of education
The BGML Company was providing free education to the employee’s children. After the closure of the company, the education system has been privatized, forcing many children to drop out of school. These children’s families are unable to pay their school fees. This has also resulted in child labour and in some instances, petty juvenile delinquency.

K) Broken marriages and engagements
It appears that during their employment, the workers were paid much below the minimum wage. As a result of that, their salary had never exceeded Rs. 5000/- per month. This was hardly sufficient for the workers to maintain their families and simultaneously save for future needs. The evidence before us shows that in some cases they could not get their daughters married for want of finance.

L) Exploitation of moneylenders
On closure of the mines, even this amount of Rs. 5000/- was denied to them. They have not been paid their wages for the past 3 years. All their attempts to get justice from the courts, alternate employments, rehabilitation, and compensation, have all been unsuccessful. Because the salaries were extremely low, many refused to accept Voluntary Retirement Schemes (VRS) because the amount offered was very meager. The lack of income on behalf of the workers has also resulted in them borrowing money from moneylenders. These moneylenders charge exorbitant rates of interest sometimes going up to 20% leading to gross exploitation.

M) Media-misrepresentation
We have some evidence to the effect that some of the print media have been misrepresenting the image that there is unrest in KGF and an increase in antisocial activities including goondaism. The media has tried to depict that the former mine workers are rowdies and social deviants. But we found no such incidences of antisocial behavior in this regard as we interacted with the mine workers.

N) Discrimination against Dalits
The majority of the mine workers belong to the Dalit community and also to a linguistic minority (Tamils). Many stated that they face double discrimination on these grounds. The apathy of the state and the government towards the needs of this community is two fold as it is not only economically based but also socially prejudiced.

O) The Karnataka government’s order of 29th October 2002

It appears that the City Municipal Corporation had agreed with the BGML to take over the water supply system and sanitation system of BGML area. This was to be done without any expectation on the part of the Government. However, by an Order dated 29th October 2002, the City Municipal Corporation was told not to spend any amount on account of BGML colonies. We consider this Order most shocking and for the misery of the people, the Government of Karnataka should be held responsible.

Recommendations
We are still in the process in inquiring into the reasons and the validity of the closing of the mines. We are still enquiring whether the revival of the mines could be achieved in reasonable time. We were told that the mines are still economically viable including Chikarugutta and Vichala Mines. John Basten, Retired Chief Mining Manager, BGML, stated that the life of the mines could be extended for another 100 years and that it is possible to revive the mines.
We are now presently concentrating on the inhuman wrongs done to these former workers and their family members.

We therefore recommend
I) The Government of Karnataka should withdraw the said Order at 29th October 2002 and further direct the City Municipality Corporation, and the other officers concerned to take effective steps for restoration of all basic amenities to these people. While the workers have lost their jobs, it does not mean that they should be denied their basic amenities.

II) Restore water supply to all the existing colonies of workers through the existing old pipes laid down for the purpose of distributing water, and whenever necessary by laying down new pipes and other requirements.

III) Restore electricity to the worker’s homes. We find no justification for disconnecting electrical supply.

IV) Restore adequate water and drainage facilities for the public toilets/sanitation purposes.

V) Restore the previous hospital and all medical facilities that were available before the closing of the mines.

VI) We recommend that the government should properly introduce a Public Distribution System (PDS) to provide adequate rations to the workers and their families.

VII) The government must come up with a scheme to provide an alternate source of employment for all the workers.

VIII) Restore the school to its original status that was run by BGML to provide free and compulsory education to the miner’s children.

We propose to send a copy of these preliminary findings and recommendations to the Government of Karnataka and also to the Central Government. We hope to receive a response within 15 days. If they respond, we will certainly take into consideration their replies in our final detailed report. However if they fail to respond, we will be at liberty to proceed with a final report without any further reference to them.

 

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