There are five cooperative societies in KGF, all angling to play a crucial role in the revival process
The fate of the mines in Kolar Gold Fields (KGF), which host the second deepest gold deposits in the world, and its over 3,500 workers and families, has been hanging fire for the past decade.
While the Union government, after getting the go-ahead from the Supreme Court, readies its draft global tender document to hand over mine operations to the highest biding private company, there is a flurry of activity in KGF among the many workers’ bodies that today claim to represent the Bharat Gold Mines Ltd. (BGML) worker.
But ask the old mine worker, who is cautiously optimistic about his future, and he will tell you there is much confusion over who will represent them once the bidding commences. This is barely surprising given that in the 12 years since the State-owned BGML ceased operations four cooperative societies have sprung up, one as recent as last year. All of them bear signboards that indicate they speak for BGML employees as a whole.
In all, there are five workers’ cooperative societies today in KGF. Curiously, each of them claims to have a membership of over 3,000 employees. Most of the cooperative societies The Hindu spoke with either claimed they were the first to be registered under the Cooperative Societies Act (deeming the others illegal) or that they had the widest backing.
Why they’re important
The cooperative societies, as successive court orders and the 2006 Union Cabinet decision have indicated, have two key roles to assume in the revival process. One, they will ensure that the pending 50 per cent of the VRS settlement (with interests and gratuities) will be paid to the 3,500 workers who were employed at the time of closure. And two, the workers (represented by a cooperative society) are likely to, going by earlier government proposals, be given the ‘first right of refusal and counter offer’. This clause has meant that companies interested in mining here have over the years actively built a relationship with, and, as some allege, promoted and funded some organisations.
Barring one cooperative society — the BGM United Employees Industrial Cooperative Society (BUEICS) — which was registered in 1999 for various welfare activities related to workers, all others started post closure. K. Anbalagan, who heads this society and was the leader of the trade union that was in power at the time of the closure, says that after the closure most cooperatives started liaising with corporate houses to facilitate the buy-over. His cooperative, and the Left trade unions, are the only ones that have been lobbying for the government to revive BGML.
“We are clear that we want the government to revive the enterprise — that is in the interest of the workers and the town. Profitability is no longer a concern, knowing that gold prices have been soaring. Any State investment will be worth it,” says Mr. Anbalagan.
Another cooperative, BGM All Employees Industrial Cooperative Society, which was among those that challenged the Karnataka High Court’s Division Bench order to revive the State-run BGML, is rooting for privatisation. Workers here say that this cooperative is “powerful” as it has the backing of Union Minister K.H. Muniyappa. T. Selvarajan, former BGML supervisor and a member of this cooperative, says that it is the “real representative” of BGML workers. “All that others have done is delayed revival. If they wouldn’t have repeatedly gone to court, the mines would have been up and running by now.” He insists that “the forum” referred to in the Supreme Court order is his cooperative, with a proclaimed membership of 3,100.
Refuting the AEICS’s claims, T.S. Purushothaman, director of the Global Gold Mines Industrial Cooperative Society, says they are the officially registered cooperative society (in 2004) with a membership of over 3,000.
“All others don’t count as they were registered after us. We have the widest backing now.” He says each society is trying to mislead workers by claiming the court have appointed them as custodians.
The erstwhile trade unions have taken an independent stance, demanding the mines remain in the public sector. “It’s a complete mess now, and people are confused,” says Srinivasan, member of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions. “Cooperative leaders are lobbying hard with Australian companies and seeking to cash in on the ‘right of first refusal’ they have been given, instead of worrying about workers.”
The CITU plans to file a review petition challenging the July 9, 2013 Supreme Court order.