In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, workers of Telangana's Singareni Collieries Company Limited (SCCL) have urged authorities to confine coal mining operations to open casts.
Amid the nationwide lock down, SCCL is undertaking operations across three regions, in 27 underground mines and 18 open cast mines. However, attendance across sites appear to be a little over 50%.
With over 46,000 employees, SCCL operates in three regions across the erstwhile four districts of Khammam, Karimnagar, Warangal and Adilabad in northern Telangana.
Singareni is a major source of coal-based electricity power for Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, parts of Maharashtra and other southern states such as Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.
Several workers at Bhupalpally staged a sit-in, stating that it was impossible to be involved in mining operations, given the current situation, without proper medical safety equipment.
The employees alleged that they didn't have adequate masks to work in close contact with one another underground. Unions have demanded the shutdown of underground operations temporarily in view of the COVID-19 spread.
Telangana Boggu Ganula Karmika Sangam (TGBKS) President Venkat Rao has written to Chairman and Managing Director N Sridhar, asking him to shut down the underground mining operations for the time being.
Speaking to TNM, TBGKS General Secretary Raji Reddy said, "There are not enough masks to protect workers from COVID-19 and 'social distancing' is impossible while working in the underground mines. We have sought the provision of sufficient safety masks and sanitisers and calling off the operations underground."
He further added, "They (the management) said that they will allocate funds for safety equipment immediately and provide all measures but halting of the operations inside the underground mines is not possible as the bigger units of Coal India (CIL) are also going ahead with operations."
When TNM reached out to management of SCCL about the concerns, an official said that all the measures were being taken as far as the containment of COVID-19 was concerned.
He said, "At this crucial time, halting of operations is undesirable. For Telangana and Andhra, Singareni is the major source for power distribution while other southern states too partially depend on us."
Singareni Collieries Co'Ltd (SCCL) efforts 2 enforces disinfect drive & social Distancing across its' mining regions to contain the #COVID19 spread. #SCCL is major source of coal based thermal power generation in South India. pic.twitter.com/XRQzLcWLsE— CharanTeja (@CharanT16) March 25, 2020
The official further added, "We are ensuring all staff follow the COVID-19 containment guidelines. On the other hand, we are strictly directing staff not to come to work if they are coming from the red zones (places where people are suspected to have been infected with the coronavirus) and if their parents or kin returned recently from foreign countries."
However, according to officials, the fear of COVID-19 is showing the impact on the attendance and production despite the safety measures. Several sets of sanitisers and masks were sent to all the regions of SCCL, officials said.
Earlier this week, a memo was issued to take requisite measures, following the publication of a Government Order (GO 45) by the Telangana government, to contain the spread of COVID-19; it ordered the continued operation of the coal mines to ensure coal supply to thermal power stations which have been declared fully functional for generation of electricity.
Meanwhile, the entire state is under lockdown, with a curfew in place from 7 pm to 6 am. Medical teams and local police keep an eye on people who were asked to be in the self-quarantine.