Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Work at Naxal-hit Nalco mines yet to resume

Dillip Satapathy / Bhubaneswar April 21, 2009, 1:25 IST

The bauxite mines of National Aluminium Company (Nalco) at the Panchpatmali hills in Koraput district of Orissa are yet to restart operations after last week’s naxalite attack.

Scared workers continue to stay away from work, demanding fulfilment of various security-related requirements.

The stoppage of work hasn’t affected the production of alumina at the refinery at Damanjodi, about 15 km from the mines, as the refinery has about 30 days of bauxite stock, a company source said. But if the stalemate continues for another eight to 10 days, the refinery may be affected.

The Panchpatmali bauxite mines of Nalco have the largest deposit of bauxite in Asia. With an annual capacity of 48 lakh tonnes, it produces 12,000-15,000 tonnes of bauxite every day.

Company authorities may officially declare the mines “safe for operation” tomorrow, after a thorough scanning of the area for any remnants of land mines left by the Naxalites, who laid siege to the property for over eight hours last week.

But, workers are adamant on other demands. These include no duty in the mines after sunset, increasing the number of security personnel in the mines and at the workers’ colony and in the buses engaged for transport of the staff.

The management has held several rounds of discussions with a core group of representatives of all employee unions and associations over the past week, but to no avail.

The Naxals attacked on April 12 night. In the fight, 10 Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) jawans and five Naxalites were killed. About 100 Nalco workers were held hostage by the ultras for over eight hours before being released the next morning.

A top executive of the company said if there is no work after sunset, this will render a large portion of the work force surplus, besides the loss of production. Similarly, security at the mines, workers colony and company buses cannot be strengthened right away, as posting of more CISF men and providing them and their families with necessary social infrastructure will take time.

The delay in declaring the area safe for operation was due to unavailability of bomb experts. The state police have only one bomb squad and it is currently engaged in giving protection to political leaders visiting naxal infested areas for election campaigning.

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