Korba Chimney Collapse Scandal – 2009

Bharat Aluminium Co (Balco) is one of India’s major companies, a subsidiary of Vedanta Pic, the conglomerate listed on the London Stock Exchange.

Balco is building a new power plant at Korba, in the northeast of Chhattisgarh state, using the firm Sepco as its chief sub-contractor.

Sepco in turn hired Garmon Dunkerley (GDCL) as project managers for a 275 m (852 ft) specialist chimney. The half-built chimney collapsed and, six weeks later, Balco tried to distance itself from the whole affair when one of its own vice-presidents and two of its engineers were caught on the run. Balco’s spokesman would only comment ‘The arrest has come as a surprise to us.’

There were over 3,000 workers on the site on the day in question. The weather was foul, with heavy rain shot through with lightning. Those not assigned to a specific task huddled anywhere they could in search of shelter. A large number found it in and around the shell of the nascent chimney, already 106 m (330 ft) high. It was the worst place to be. Without warning the laborers were showered with tons of ragged concrete blocks as the chimney crashed to the ground, burying them in mud, steel and rubble.

By the next day only nine survivors could be found; another two were pulled out six days later. After two weeks rescue workers with 30 earth-moving machines had found some 40 bodies – but a witness estimated there must be at least another 60 still buried. There was no reliable list of employees to guide rescuers; and site security had no real idea how many people were even working there. The charges against Balco’s men include ‘culpable homicide’ and ‘conspiracy’.

When: September 23 2009

Where: Korba, Chhattisgarh, India

Death toll: An estimated 100 dead and 11 injured, although it could be many more.

You should know: According to the United Nations International Labour Organisation nearly 50,000 Indians die from work-related accidents or illness each year. A senior official confirmed that the Indian government was looking into trades union leaders’ accusations that Balco had been using ‘low-quality materials’ for the building of the Korba chimney.

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