Hyderabad: Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao on Sunday announced a slew of benefits and welfare measures for coal miners of the Singareni Collieries Company Limited (SCCL) including interest-free housing loan of Rs 10 lakh, opening of six new underground mines with additional employment potential of 7,000 to 8,000 jobs and use of air conditioners in miners’ quarters with free power.
The Chief Minister backed up his announcements with a promise that he would soon embark on a ‘Singareni Yatra’ to take stock of welfare measures and facilities being provided to coal miners who gave a landmark victory to the TRS-affiliated Telangana Boggu Ghani Karmika Sangham (TBGKS) in the recognised union elections. During the yatra, he will also be laying foundation for six underground coal mines.
Addressing a huge gathering of coal workers who arrived at Pragathi Bhavan as part of ‘Atmiya Sammelanam’, the Chief Minister assured them of a total revamp of policies and practices in the company, and that he himself would devote more time to sort out their issues.
The coal miners, who raised slogans praising the Chief Minister, broke into loud applause when he announced that the housing loan of Rs 6 lakh proposed earlier would be enhanced to Rs 10 lakh. It was a spot decision taken by Chandrashekhar Rao when the miners sought enhancement even as he was speaking.
Stating that the SCCL continued to be the key growth engine of industry and economy in Telangana, he said the government was firm on taking it to a new level in development so that even larger mining companies including Coal India would learn from it.
During the Singareni yatra, the Chief Minister said he would lay foundation for six underground coal projects already identified at different places.
Describing the victory of the TBGKS in the union elections as a historic one, he said winning nine of the 11 divisions was no mean achievement. “So far, it has been the unions winning elections and not the coal workers. The TBGKS victory should be seen as a victory of coal workers,” he said.
ACs and free power
The Chief Minister announced that the coal workers returning home after a hard day’s work would now be able to enjoy minimum comfort of an air-conditioner. “You rightly deserve it. The SCCL Board will not only consider the miners’ request for allowing use of ACs in their quarters, but would also ensure supply of free power,” he said.
He said that the coal workers were victims of bribery that was promoted consistently over a period of time. Taking a dig at the trade unions affiliated to the Left parties for encouraging such tendencies, he said he was shocked to know that coal workers seeking certification of medical invalidation were forced to cough up Rs 6 lakh per head to the medical board. The medical invalidation certificate helps a coal worker’s dependent to be considered for a job. “The medical department as a whole needs treatment in the company,” the Chief Minister said.
He said it was high time the medical board is reconstituted. In an obvious reference to the blatant style of functioning of a chief medical officer at Kothagudem hospital of the company, he said the experience of a worker diagnosed with cancer by the medical officer was deplorable.
“The local MP had tried to reach out to the chief medical officer over phone more than 15 times to refer the case, but it was in vain. Nothing more can be expected from a medical officer who was beyond the reach of patients and even the elected representatives,” he said. “Shall we go for a change?” he asked the gathering, and a majority of them roared back with a forthright “yes”.
The Chief Minister said his Singareni yatra should mark the end of the menace of bribery. “The awkward practice of bribery should end. There should be no scope for such blatant practices in Singareni Collieries. A person taking the bribe and the one who offers it should be taken to task. Best systems would be put in place to avoid this malady, he said, adding that during his visit, he would sit with the miners and their leaders and discuss all their issues. “I will take stock of the conditions in which you are working and living,” he asserted.
Stating that there were only two types of jobs in the company till now, he said the company needs to diversify its activities taking advantage of its established practices of mining. SCCL will make foray into the mining of other minerals involving less risk, and to begin with, the mining of iron ore for the proposed Bayyaram steel factory would also be entrusted to them, he said.
Taking a compassionate view of the miners lives, the Chief Minister said those working in underground mines can’t be expected to remain underground their life time. “The company will introduce a new system that would facilitate posting of senior and ageing coal miners to opencast mines,” he said.
He said the union membership being paid by the miners would be reduced to Re 1. At present, the coal workers were paying an increased fee of Rs 20 each as against Rs 10 they paid earlier. An agreement will be signed with the representative unions to bring down the fee to a token amount of Re 1, he said.
The Chief Minister said he would also visit the SCCL hospitals where coal workers are being treated for their ailments. “I too will have a check-up in the same hospital,” he said, adding that the government will consider tie-ups with bigger hospitals to ensure best medical facilities to coal workers if the existing hospitals of the company were found to be falling short.