Relief for Stranded Mine Workers

Relief for Stranded Mine Workers

The Surda Copper Mine in Musabani in Jharkhand shut down leaving many stranded. First, Hindustan Copper Limited (HCL) stopped operations in early 2000s, then a private company (who took the reins in 2007) citing various reasons pulled out in 2017, and then a fill gap contractor continued till the lease for the mine expired in March 2020, just three days after the lockdown.

“The coming March will be two years since this embargo and in all this time there’s been nothing that HCL have done for us employees,” Lal Mohan Kalindi says. “HCL is a Public Sector company. The government is, in essence, running this. But they say we aren’t HCL workers, we are contracted labour and so in times of strife, they’ve ignored us completely, turned their head to look the other way.”

With work condensed and funds tight, most miners at the Surda mine dipped into their savings, in most cases emptying them to survive. “Assi hazar ke kareeb tha PF mei, ab zero balance ho gaya hai,” Maksud Ali says. Maksud worked as a loco operator for 23 years, and for the first six months of the pandemic worked one day a month (daily salary: Rs. 762). He had to pay the school fees for his two sons else the authorities wouldn’t let the kids sit for the exams. “I don’t want them to stay stuck here forever”.

“Kya karein, stithi aisi thi,” he says. It was for a rainy day and over the past year it had poured. “Now, at 55, I start again. I’m looking for another job, anything, someone who will employ me and pay me to support my family.”

Relief came via rations. First the government rations doubled in quantity for the period of the pandemic. Then came aid from civil society. Oxfam India’s Mission Sanjeevani helped distribute rations to all workers in the area, providing them with dry ration kit including 25 kgs of rice, soybean, and spices, safety and hygiene kit including sanitary napkins, hand wash, and masks.

Oxfam India provided ration to 1578 families who were mostly contractual and unskilled labourers.

“The average person doesn't think of mazdoors, at most times,” Kalindi says. “But Oxfam India did. And it was really life saving.”

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