Working condition appalling in mines

A massive cave-in at an open-cast coal mine in Lalmatia in Jharkhand’s Godda district, which has resulted in the death of 18 workers so far, has drawn attention to the dire working conditions in India’s collieries and other mines. The death toll in the tragedy is expected to rise as around 50 people are still trapped in the mine. While an investigation has been ordered into the mine collapse, officials of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), who are engaged in rescue work at the site, have described the disaster as a man-made one. Mineral extraction the world over is fraught with risk. Cave-ins and underground explosions are common despite technological advancements. Many of these mishaps occur because safety protocols and measures are routinely ignored. Workers are often forced to take unnecessary risks. This is especially the case in illegal mines and in mines that are outsourced. The outsourcing company isn’t bothered about enforcing safety rules while the contractor is keen on cutting costs than ensuring the wellbeing and safety of his workers. The unfortunate outcome of this is mining accidents. This appears to have been the case with the ill-fated mine at Lalmatia. The mine is part of Eastern Coalfields Limited’s Rajmahal Opencast Project and work there was outsourced to the Mahalaxmi Company. Witnesses say that a mud-slide occurred in the mine and an alert was sounded. But work in the mine continued despite the alert.

One of the reasons for the government enacting the Coal Mines (Nationalisation) Act in 1973 was the poor safety record of the private sector mines. Though work­ing conditions in mines have improved since, they remain worrying. The outsourcing of mining activity to private players has put the lives of miners in jeopardy again.

In 2015 alone, 38 miners were killed across 570 mining sites in India.  The death toll in 2016 was higher; 65 deaths in mines were reported between January and June last year. The number of fatalities is likely to be far higher as most deaths go unreported or rather, unacknowledged by mine owners. Compounding the problem of the high risk involved in mining work and the low priority accorded to safety norms is the problem of inadequate compensation to those killed or injured in mining accidents. This was underscored by an April 2013 report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on safety in coal mines. The government has announced compensation to those killed in the Lalmatia disaster. It must ensure that the compensations reaches the kin, especially since mining workers usually come from extremely poor backgrounds and are largely contract workers. Importantly, it must enforce safety rules in the mining industry.

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