'Voluntary Retirement Scheme' by CIL Benefits Miniscule Number

The VRS scheme by CIL is not offering benefits to most of women employees as they are not eligible for the three conditions under this scheme. According to Coal India rule, a family member is required to be offered employment in case an employee is rendered unfit for work or dies in an accident. This rule has been followed prior to 2002 when after every five years, CIL (Coal India Limited) used to absorb the sons of women employees when they become adult. But this practice has been stopped by the management because of over satisfaction. In the last 12 years, there has been no such recruitment.

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7% of Coal India's 3.57 lakh workforce is made by around 26,000-odd women. Most of these women are asking their sons to be absorbed by CIL in their place. A general labourer at Amrapatra colliery 4 in Jharkhand, Namita Bhowmick said that these women are losing their ability to continue with the physical work with age. Many mothers are accompanied by their sons at the workplace. But, this stops sons to explore employment opportunities. 

A voluntary retirement scheme which has recently announced by the CIL management was the result of 8-9 years of effort. The VRS (Female) Sangathan has approached all the officials of CIL to take up the case.

The secretary general of the federation, SQ Zama said that they are in talks with the management for years and this scheme was announced only last week after its approval by the board few weeks ago. 

During the planning to divest an additional stake in the company, the workmen intimidated to go on strike. The list of demands included the female VRS scheme which is agreed by the management. 

Limited Benefit 

There are three conditions set by the management as the VRS Sangathan is not happy with the present form of the scheme. CIL has introduced that a woman chosen for VRS will need to put in 10 years of CIL service, yet be less than 50 years of age and their sons will have to be a matriculate or an ITI certificate holder.  Shubhendu Bhowmick, the general secretary of the Sangathan said that every son would not be eligible for this. Only 400 women are likely to be eligible under this scheme out of 26,000. This VRS scheme is not addressing all the issues. 

This issue will be taken to the management along with the Indian National Mine Worker's Federation to include a larger portion of women employees under this. 

Absorbing sons of Women employees under the VRS scheme is virtually of no use. There are many problems associated with this. Women employees cannot be deployed in mines which are underground and also need to be relieved from open-cast mining jobs before dark as per The Mines Act of 1952. The appointees are employed as peons, general labourers, sweepers and paramedical staff, since most CIL mines are underground. The employees are more than posts so all cannot be employed gainfully. 

A senior CIL official said that women employees cannot be posted in those areas where exploration in underway as such areas are deep inside forests with hostile terrain. 

According to women employees, it would be a win-win for both the employees and the CIL if the sons are employed. CIL can send their sons to mines while they get relieved from hard toil. 

Hazardous Occupation 

80% workmen still toil in underground mines to produce only 10% coal at the world's largest producer which is slated to cross 500 million tonnes production in 2014-15. Some 470-odd mines are operated by the company in 21 major coal-fields across eight states which include 163 open case mines, 273 underground mines and 34 mixed mines. 

These areas are prone to mishaps. The roof of the Bhatdee coal mine at Jharkhan collapsed on 6th September 2006 which killed 50 people. It was the result of a spark that ignited a patch of dense methane. In 2010, a gas explosion in the Anjan Hill underground coal mine killed 14 people in Chattishgarh. 

On the basis of high methane content per tonne of coal, Bhatdee is considered a Degree 3 mine under Bharat Choking Coal. One could gasp for air as it is a dark and damp underground cavern. Still, miners have been working in this scary environment for the last 60 years. According to rescue experts, it's a matter of luck that this mine has been operational without an accident for so long. 

Mine workers at Anjan Hill under South Eastern Coal-fields were asked to wait while mine rescuers were assessing the safety of the mine. Two days earlier, a gas was detected and mining operations were suspended. Eruption of scorching hot gas from within the depths opens three gaping holes in the mountain side and chars everything. This incidence injured 31 miners. 

1,137 mine workers have lost their lives in 919 coal mine accidents according to figures compiled by DGMS between 2001 and 2011. The accidents were due to explosion, inundation, fires, spontaneous heating or strata failure in the mines. 

Average fatalities at CIL mines were 82 in between 2000-04 every year for the five years as per the data compiled by CIL. It was 80 in 2005-09 and declined to 66 in 2010-12. In 2013, 54 employees died in some 50 accidents. 

The rule of the CIL of giving jobs to a family member will lead to more women's employment and the issue will continue to haunt Coal India until and unless accidents stop.

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