KGF: A day in the mines, security checks and interview
Director: Janaki Nair; Cinematographer: R V Ramani
Duration: 00:30:15; Aspect Ratio: 1.366:1; Hue: 35.223; Saturation: 0.114; Lightness: 0.288; Volume: 0.146; Cuts per Minute: 5.619; Words per Minute: 44.226
Summary: The video begins inside the mine shaft. A mining engineer describes his working life, while waiting for the lift. Through a long ride up from the depths of the mine, chatter and conversation can be overhead amongst the workers.
At the ground level, the workers are all inspected in spite of the presence of the filmmaker and her crew. The security procedures in KGF have since colonial times been tinged with elements of racism and casteism, but at the same time this is an ordinary, banal moment in the everyday life in the mines. A sudden disruption of this banality is oddly a fight between two security guards.
In this video there is also an interview with one of the high-level managers of Bharat Gold Mines Limited, who gives an account of official response to the closure of the mines. The mines have provided employment to many generations of families, and have been functional and operative for over a century. The government is attempting to provide some employment just to keep the mines open, and a voluntary retirement scheme.
Kolar Gold Field, Kolar District, Karnataka
Give one cage now
Then, did the manager come? Where has he gone? 670? Is he coming now?
Now, will you take that barthi(?) up? From 23?
In 23, there is a ..., will you take it up? Barthi barthi
Is there road inspection? No?
I started as a supervisor, now I have become a mining engineer.
J. Nair: I see, and your family is from the area?
I stay in the mining area, mining has given quarters, I am staying in these quarters.
J. Nair: And your family, your father and grandfather are also from this area?
Yes, my grandfather worked here, as a foreman, and my father worked as a clerk in our BGML (Bharat Gold Mines Limited) office.
J. Nair: So you have plans for the future?
Company works, till that time we'll work, if it's not possible we have to give VRS (Voluntary Retirement Scheme) and try to settle our family in some other place.
J. Nair: You've already made these plans?
Yes I planned already, I have attended three more interviews, they said they will give job to me. Like that my colleaues will also try and join in other companies.
J. Nair: What about you, sir?
I'm also the same, local, so I'm also trying to go out. Normally I got that post, but probably I may go out next month.
J. Nair: So how long have you worked in this mine?
19 years service as a mining engineer I've worked.
J. Nair: So what are the options for other kinds of workers in the mines, if the mines is scheduled for closure on August 31st as planned?
Other kinds of people are there: drill operators, engineers...
J. Nair: What are the chances of their getting jobs elsewhere?
Only the man who's having the competence certificate, those who are having competence certificate, they will get. General purpose, they will not get job, they have to settle their life by keeping some shops or cultivations or some other jobs they have to seek.
J. Nair: What is the scale of VRS being offered to a person in your position?
It is very less when compared to other companies, it is one and half months' salary per year of service. The servicemen who are serving remainding service, those who are getting old, workers, they are benefitting, they are getting their full salary till their retirement, that means four-five years' leftover service, they will get full salaries, they'll be happy. But those who are leaving, young fellows like us, we will lose. If we go and work in some other company, no doubt, it will be added money only.
J. Nair: What about you sir? At your level what is the VRS compensation they are offering?
Same as what he told, same.
J. Nair: But in total it comes to quite a lot?
But it depends upon how much service you have done and how much service still more is there, whichever they benfitted that they will give. For example, I am 19 years, still 20 years service is there, but 19 years service only they will calculate and give it to me, that VRS.
J. Nair: How many people at your level have taken VRS so far?
Previously, there were 360 officers, now it is reduced to 180, company has planned to still reduce to 70, they require only 70 officers for this company for existing employment.
J. Nair: I see...OK, thank you.
A board can be seen hanging on the inner walls of the mine, next to the lift.
The lift is going up with its passengers and stops at various points during its journey up. These are the second deepest mines in the world. The Champion Reefs mine is the deepest here and went to a depth of 3200 mts when it was operational.
The depth of the mines is so exceptional that it was used to do neutrino particle experiments and observations from 1960 till 1992. The long history of Kolar Gold Fields mines still continues as an Employees Forum is still waiting for the transfer of the assets of the company from Bharat Gold Mines Limited to the employees, though it has been cleared by the court.
The security procedures for gold mining are stringent and as the workers are searched and made to remove clothes and shoes before leaving the mine. The daily process is seen with amusement and possibly a necessary part of the work. The suspicion of theft was not restricted to the object of gold alone, but also candles that were carried down by the miners.
In the background note to Ayisha Abraham's project "Subterranea", written by Tejas Pande, there is a brief sketch of the history of the area and specifically of the activities of stealing and surveillance by the colonial rule and later by the post independence owners of the mine.
"The Mysore Mines Regulation, passed in 1897, allowed the English to be in greater control over the workforce they employed. Interestingly, the surveillance extended itself towards the non-mining population such as jewelers, goldsmiths and even well-off residents. Extreme control constantly demanded of the lawmakers to sharpen the law as seen through many instances since the Regulation was passed. It distinguished itself from the IPC as the burden of proving innocence/ lawful practice fell on those accused. Although the initial results of the Regulation's implementation seemed impressive, the amount of recovered gold and other materials rarely rivaled the initial numbers, although the rate of conviction remained quite high. Since the law was selectively implemented in the KGF from the rest of the Mysore state and the British India, the complications only worsened for the rulers. Equally precarious was the other kind of gold-bearer – the 'respectable' residents of the region who were often lent a sympathetic ear in the court of law as it was customary for well-to-do Indian families to be in possession of gold in some form. The Criminal Tribes Act was also implemented exclusively in the KGF in order to keep the thieving tribal population in check – in the process of which they were indiscriminately searched, harassed and restricted in their movements. Folklore bears witness to the practices of checking men even in their rectum for pieces of gold amalgam, sponge gold, and even quartz while Thurston deemed appropriate that the Korava women jump the lack of their hesitation of hiding away small pieces of gold or jewels in their genitals.
The success of lowering criminal activities were attributed solely to the strict regulation, although the fact remains that they were simply suppressed. Smuggling of gold between the native and even Europeans with the goldsmiths helped them thrive in an overwhelmingly working class town, although the Europeans were almost never charged guilty."
Preventing Petty Pilferage
Since 1891, those employed in Kolar Gold Fields have markedly not been from Karnataka, but from Tamil Nadu especially. Many were Adi Dravidas or agricultural labourers who performed unskilled labour in the mines. J.Nair in her historical article on the history of mining in Kolar and miner's strikes and movements, says that "Maplahs and Malayalees were employed as carpenters, blasters, and in other skilled jobs, while Punjabis and Muslims from the north constituted a large part of the watch and ward establishment'. This practice seems to exist till 1997, and many of those from other communities are permanently settled in Kolar.
In the early 1900s, the area was also populated by Marwari moneylenders who especially profited from the low salaries that those employed to work at KGF got, and their need to borrow money for any occasion, festivity or emergency. Even in 1906, "the company management, sarkar (government), sowcar (moneylender/bank) constituted a formidable triad of power in the Kolar region". The division on lines of language also played a role in not allowing for effective union formations amongst all workers, but at the same time, as is evident from J. Nair's account, the strike by workers in KGF in1930 is an important moment in the history of labour in the country.
Quotes above taken from:
Janaki Nair, Representing Labour in Old Mysore: Kolar Gold Fields Strike of 1930
, Economic and Political Weekly, April 28, 1990.
(Hindi: Argument about coming to work on time)
- Why don't you come on time
..Its already 12:30
- What is it you? When do you come?
- I know when you come on time. At 12.
- Everyone should come to duty on time
- What happened now?
- Just come on time
- Why don't you report me
- Why don't you come on time?
- Why is it so important for one day to come on time?
Lodge, Southern Cross #24: exterior of the building, roof and driveway.
Road leading up to Bharat Gold Mines Limited in Kolar.
Exterior of building where interview with one of the managers of BGML is conducted.
For the last 17 years I'm working in this organisation.
J. Nair: From the time that you joined to the present moment what has been the difference in the amount of personnel that have been employed?
When I joined it was around 13000 employees, now it has come down to 5000.
Interview with one of the managers in Bharat Gold Mines Limited about imminent closure of mines, workers to be employed and discharged, voluntary retirement scheme.
In 1997 when this interview was conducted, the government had to determine whether to close the mines, though it had already been decided that no gold could be further extracted from the mines without huge expenses and investment.
J. Nair: What is the expected prospects of BGML? Has there been announcements about closure and so on and so forth?
In fact the Government of India has taken a decision to identify a co-promoter to run this organisation on joint venture with agreed terms.
J. Nair: What is the expected amount of people you're going to be able to employ in this joint venture?
In fact if you look at the present trend, many of the operations are uneconomical. This private co-promoter who is to take this assignment, would like to see the returns from each indiivudal, and therefore he may select a few areas, and in that he may require around 1500 to 2000 at the most.
J. Nair: This means that you're offering a golden handshake to the rest of the employees?
No this voluntary retirement is open to all employees, and in that the management can retain a few cateories who are very essential to keep the mine alive till such time a decision is taken by the government regarding this joint venture, and after that whatever is required they can plan and induct, to the extent required.
J. Nair: Which would be the key people identified at the present moment? Categories of people...
Only those who are in very essential categories, statutorily required and holding strategic positions, who are required to keep the mine alive and to take care of other activities in a limited way, only such categories could be retained.
J. Nair: Could you name some of these categories?
See, for maintaining the water level etc we require some engineering personnel, and some statutory personnel are required to mainain the mines, and apart from that supposing this VRS settlements and labour relations issues etc some administrative staff and officers are also required, including accounts, only in a limited way. So only such categories could be retained.
J. Nair: But no actual people who are currently working in the mines or underground and so on?
From among them only we can retain people who are in these categories.
J. Nair: Would there be preference for certains kinds of labourers? I understand there's a very large category called general labour. Now would that be a category included in what you say is...
We have a large workforce in general labour category, that is not the category we are short of, only ..., drillers, blasters, pump operators, maintenance of compressure and other equipments, particularly generator and electrical equipment maintenance. And a few from administrative side are required.
J. Nair: So as far as workmen are concerned, mostly skilled workmen, not the unskilled...
Not even all skilled, when there is no production, supposing a decision is taken to keep only a limited number to keep the mine alive without any production, the requirement will be negligible, it may be 500-600.
J. Nair: In the past few years, there've been several announcements about closure and so on. The VRS scheme has been operating for how long now?
Earlier there was no VRS scheme, this scheme was introduced only in the year 1991. From that time onwards, 3600 and odd employees have opted for voluntary retirement.
J. Nair: In this 3000 and odd, how many of these would you say are members of the administrative and managerial staff and how many are labour?
It is mostly general labour categories and a few in other categories also but whatever we declared as surplus, those categories have been given voluntary retirement.
J. Nair: Can you explain a bit more about VRS? What does it consist of, what's the package?
Under this scheme, persons, particularly the employees I am referring to, those who have completed a number of years of service...
Under the voluntary retirement scheme, apart from the other usual benefits, what the employees are entitled to, as per the service conditions and statutory payment, they are eligible for an ex gratia amount of 45 days for every completed year of service or the actual salary, whichever is less. This is an additional payment, apart from other payments what they are entitled as per service conditions and statutory regulations.