Turamdih, about five km from Jamshedpur in Jharkhand is the site of a nuclear mine. One of five Uranium mines of the Uranium Corporation of India Limited (UCIL), it was commissioned in 2003. The UCIL is a Public Sector Undertaking (PSU), under the Department of Atomic Energy for uranium mining and processing. The centrally owned Corporation is responsible for the mining and milling of uranium ore in India. Uranium is the main fuel source for running the nuclear power plants that are installed in the country.
The Plant employs a large number of contract workers routinely. These workers are engaged in highly sensitive work which makes them extremely vulnerable to dangerous levels of exposure to radiation. UCIL does not provide them with any kind of protective suits or safety gear nor does it ensure that the contractor does. These contract workers do not get any health or medical benefits either.
Recent reports indicate tension between the contract workers and the management over the matter of conducting medical tests of the workers. After the death of two contract labourers in a mine collapse in May 2016, the company has made it compulsory for the workers to obtain a medical certificate at their own cost. The contractor has refused to bear the cost of the test, which will cost each worker Rs.3500.
There is an even larger issue looming over the workers. If the medical test shows the presence of any adverse condition, the worker will not be certified fit and will lose his job! And according to the workers, it is almost certain that most of them will be found with evidence of some ailment that is most probably caused by exposure to radiation or fine particulate matter. The workers are against a medical test that is not going to enable them to get assistance for necessary medical treatment rather it is going to deprive them of their livelihood.
It is not only the workers who are employed in the plant who are vulnerable to dangerous doses of radiation. The uranium mining waste is allowed to collect in a tailing pond, which is not even lined at the bottom. The slurry of waste contaminates the fields where crops are grown, the groundwater and during summers, the slurry dries up and gets carried by the wind all around the pond, to neighbouring villages. All this poses grave dangers to lives and health of the people and their cattle.
The adivasis have nowhere but these mines to work in. When they were displaced from their land in order that UCIL mine may be operated, very few got permanent jobs, many continue as contract labourers even today and others have no job at all.
The workers have not taken this injustice lying down. Over the years, the workers, especially the younger ones, have raised the demand for permanent jobs and implementation of safety norms. The response of the management has been brutal – it has not hesitated to dismiss them over fictitious allegations, framed charges by the police; the more active have even been jailed on false charges of murder.
On the one hand, the tribals of Turamdih have lost their lands for mining, got employed as contractual labor, and some have even lost their lives. On the other, they are accused of being anti-national and Pakistani agents when they protest the lack of safety for the workers on the basis that the uranium resources are being used for the nation’s safety and development!
This is nothing but wanton killing by the PSU and must be condemned.