Amend Mines Act to contain silicosis: Rajasthan HRC

The Rajasthan State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) has asked the government to take a fresh look at the Mines Act, 1952 to contain the alarming spread of occupational diseases and effectively deal with violators.

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.

Silicosis is an incurable respiratory disease caused by inhaling silica dust and is widespread among miners.

“The problem will be prevalent among workers engaged in several other occupations such as stone crushers, quartz mining and processing, foundries, sand blasting, ceramic industries, gem cutting and polishing, slate and pencil industries, glass manufacturing, and construction workers,” the report said.

Taking on the government for failing to launch a State-wide study on silicosis as recommended in the commission's first special report on silicosis, the panel has said not even the terms of reference for the study had been framed after 15 months. “The departments concerned also have not displayed any urgency or sensitivity in implementing the other important decisions taken.”

The majority of stone mines are in the unorganised and small-scale sector and provide employment to lakhs of people living around the mines. Reliable data about these workers are not available since employment details are not maintained, though rough estimates suggest that 25 lakh workers are engaged in mining operations in Rajasthan.

Roughly 57 silicosis deaths have been reported from the State since 2009-10 and over 891 cases detected. These workers are among the poorest of the poor.

Working conditions in stone quarries are far from satisfactory. Most of the small mine operators are reluctant to adopt safety and health measures and do not comply with the provisions of the Mines Act, 1952.

“There is need to give identity cards to mineworkers. In view of the endemic nature of silicosis in the State and widespread violation of provisions relating to record of employment and daily attendance, the identity card should be a biometric one that contains the record of employment and medical history of the holder,” the report said.

The commission is of the view the employment of workers, either regular or employed on contract/casual basis, without identity cards and exposing them to occupational diseases, should be prohibited.

Medical exam

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 commission has pointed out that the requirement of certification of silicosis by the Pneumoconiosis Board for claiming compensation in the case of death and disability is a futile exercise as far as most of the mineworkers are concerned since even the Board members do not have any expertise on the disease.

The panel has said the doctors in the districts with adequate training in pneumoconiosis may be appointed as Certifying Physicians or a Pneumoconiosis Medical Board consisting of a group of doctors posted in the district may be authorised to issue such certificates.

Most small mine operators are reluctant to adopt safety and health measures

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