Regulatory Framework of the Executive
The Act is administered by the Ministry of Labour and Employment through the Directorate General of Mines Safety (DGMS) . DGMS is the Indian Government regulatory agency for safety in mines and oil-fields. It conducts inspections and inquiries, issues competency tests for the purpose of appointment to various posts in the mines, organises seminars/conferences on various aspects of safety of workers. The mission of DGMS is to reduce the risk of occupational diseases and injury to persons employed in mines and to continually improve safety and health standards, practices and performance in the mining industry.
Employment of women in mines
Section 46 of the Mines Act prohibits women from working in part of the mine which is below the ground and also, further, there is a fixed time range within which women are allowed to be on the premises of the mine for working, which is anytime between 6 A.M. to 7 P.M. for any day . The drafters of the above-mentioned act had laid this section with the intention of providing a safeguard for women working in mines, keeping their safety in mind. This means that the male workers have an edge over their female counterparts when it comes to the maximum limit of wage that can be earned per day, even if both of them have the same set of skills and/or qualification. This becomes particularly problematic when a female worker may be willing to work underground deep in the mine accepting all the risks involved in the workplace.
Analysing Section 46 form the point of view of constitutionality, this particular section can be said to be constitutionally protected by virtue of the Article 15(3) and Article 19(6) of the Constitution of India. According to these article of the constitution, the state can make reasonable restrictions and special provisions for women and children, and therefore be keeping in mind that women and children are the most vulnerable and the most exploited sections of the workforce, the work time restrictions imposed upon women by virtue of this section is justified. But one might question the unnecessary ban of female employees from working in the underground part of the mine.
Protection of Female Workers or Archaic sexism in motion?
There are already laws mandating the fact that neither the workers are to be abused by being forced for labour nor they are to be denied any safety equipment or medical service. Therefore, having a complete ban on the employment of women deep in the mines via Section 46 of the act makes no sense because it would be in the interest of justice and fairness that the employment of any individual to work deep inside the mine should be based on the competence of that individual rather than that person’s sex . And it is the duty of the state to make sure that the work environment is neutral towards both men and women so as to make sure that such environment is not prejudiced towards any sex, which is not how things are right now in the context of women miners.
Stricter Protection required for Children
The minimum age of employment has been stipulated to be eighteen years of age in Section 40 of the Mines Act, 1952 . Also, according to Article 24 of the Constitution of India, no person below the age of fourteen years is to be employed to work in any mine. The ground reality is very different as it is commonly seen that child labourer is regularly engaged in mining activities.
This is mostly due to the cheap cost involved in employing a child. Section 68 of the Mines Act, 1952 lays down the penalty for employing a person below the age of eighteen, which is set at a maximum fine of Rupees five hundred . Such a low monetary fine dilutes the deterrence that this particular section of the act intends to set on the ones who employ child labour. Thus, amendments which would raise the bar of the penalty under this section are a welcome step towards ensuring that child labour is checked in India.
Further, keeping in mind the fact that the act lays down provisions to ensure that workers get their deserved wage, it is important to take note of the fact that it the lack of wage being given to adult workers that force their children to join their parents at hazardous workplaces. Therefore , as the current prevailing work environment makes children, a source of cheap labour and hence have a high probability of being abused for forced labour, thus, it can be said that stronger child protections laws are the need of the hour and should be ensured by the state that it is incorporated at all possible levels taking into account all the factors responsible for the same.
Article 42 of the Constitution of India mandates that the state make laws which render citizens to work in a just and humane condition . The Mines Act has many provisions such as Section 19 which makes sure that the miners have drinking water provided to them during work hours and Section 20 which mandates the provision of toilets to the workers of a mine. But, the Mines act fails to take into account the various new occupational diseases and as a result also fails to lay down the guidelines which would ensure that frequency of such diseases is lessened.
Efforts of the Rajasthan Human Rights Commission to tackle hazardous and inhumane workplace conditions in mining industry
Recently the Rajasthan Human Rights Commission has suggested amendments to the Mines Act to include Silicosis which is widespread among miners engaged in mines which contain silica. This disease affects miners engaged in stone quarrying, sand blasting and quarrying etc. and the biggest downside is that this particular respiratory disease is incurable.
The Rajasthan State Human Rights Commission's (RSHRC) pioneering efforts to provide solace to silicosis victims in the state have garnered appreciation at the national level. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has accepted it as a model programme in silicosis prevention and management for other states. Silicosis is an incurable occupational lung disease caused by inhalation of dust containing free crystalline silica. A large number of workers engaged in mining, construction, gem cutting and polishing, ceramics, slate/pencil, glass manufacture are at the risk of developing the disease.
The commission has recommended the constitution of an independent agency with adequate powers to deal with all issues relating to occupational diseases and another panel to conduct studies and research.
In a special report on silicosis submitted to the government, the SHRC has said it should be made compulsory for mine owners to use modern technology for extraction of sandstone and other dimensional stones.
The Commision has further suggested that a medical examination at the time of employment and periodic medical examination prescribed under the Mines Act and the Factories Act should be made mandatory for contract and casual labour in hazardous occupations.
The issue with respect to Silicosis and mining industry in Rajasthan, caught the attention of the government after the Commission took suo motu cognizance of the problem of silicosis in 2012 and found that in Rajasthan the problem was much more serious than anticipated.
It was followed by the Jaipur bench of Rajasthan High Court taking cognizance of the issue through a PIL on silicosis on July 10 last year and started monitoring the implementation of the 59 recommendations contained in the Special Report of RSHRC by Dr M K Devarajan, member, and RSHRC and to assist it in monitoring actions taken by the Central and state governments. The intervention by RSHRC has resulted in several concrete actions on the state government. Silicosis/asbestosis affected mineworkers were given ex-gratia payment of Rs 1 lakh, and further Rs 3 lakh if deceased, through the district collector by Rajasthan Environment and Health Administrative Board (REHAB). So far, REHAB and Rajasthan Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Board (BOCW) have sanctioned over Rs 40 crore.
Therefore, keeping in mind the spirit of Article 42 of the Constitution of India, amendment to the Mines act should be made to make it more inclusive of more number of modern occupational diseases and should also lay down laws mandating the mining authority to follow safety procedure and take necessary steps to ensure that the miners are not exposed to a higher risk of being diagnosed with such diseases. The Act has talked about providing drinking water and clean toilets to the workers but the act would have been more comprehensive and overarching if it was to also lay down the basic safety rules, such as mandating the use of gas masks for all individual inside the mines, which are desperately required by miners engaged in the extraction sites where they are constantly exposed to toxic fumes and dust, severely damaging their respiratory system.
Mines worked through contractors
Via Circular number (Cir. 3/1952) the Central Government brought all responsibility on the shoulders of management even if contractors or sub-contractors may be employed; which is a common occurrence in the mining industry.
the Owners of mines worked through contractors often place the responsibility for safe working of the mine on the latter who in turn, might transfer it to sub-Contractors who may have neither the means nor the skill required to do so. The provisions of this sub-section are quite clear; the responsibility for working the mine in a safe manner (including that of providing and setting supports) still remains that of the management even when contractors and subcontractors are employed.
Similarly, the management is also responsible under Coal Mines Regulation 113 etc. for the appointment of a competent person to- be in charge of every place where work is being carried on in the mines irrespective of whether the work is carried out through a contractor or sub-contractor. For the safe working of a mine, it is necessary that the supervising staff and shotfirers are appointed and paid by the Owner, Agent or Manager and not by a contractor or sub-contractor.
Applicability of Factories Act to Mines
The central government have directed that the provisions of the chapters III and IV relating to Health and Safety, of the Factories Act 1948, shall be applicable to all workshops, situated within the precincts of a mine, and under the same management which is used solely for purposes connected with that mine, or a number of mines under the same management.
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