1. Following the filing of a complaint by the Mines Labour Protection Campaign (MLPC) with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), there has been a significant step in the protection of, and compensation for, mineworkers in the State of Rajasthan. These workers are employed casually, and work in conditions without basis safety measures. Many of them contract silicosis, an incurable lung disease caused by the inhalation of silica particles, because of their work. The average life expectancy of these workers is in their mid-forties. There has been an on-going struggle for the monitoring of the working conditions and compensation of those with silicosis.
2. At a meeting with the Chief Secretary, and the Principal Secretaries of the Departments of Mines, Mines Safety, Labour and Health of Rajasthan on the 28th January 2013 significant decisions were made that provide a significant step to improving the lives of most casual mineworkers.
3. Since the coming into force of the law governing mines in India, the Mines Act 1952, there has been a legislative gap in the protection of those working in mines. Whilst it is the jurisdiction of the State Government to grant the mandatory mining lease and other clearances relating to the mining trade, it is the jurisdiction of the Central Government to inspect the mines and to ensure that safety conditions are maintained. However, the basic problem is that it is the obligation of the mine owner to provide notice to the Central Government department that he is intending to actually operate the mine. In the case of Rajasthan, out of 30,000 registered leases, less than 10% had given notice to Central Government. Consequently, it had no idea of how many mines are actually operating, leave aside ensuring that safety conditions comply with the law. The decision at the meeting was that the department should progressively send notices to all the mine owners who had not registered. It is hoped that a failure to register will bring about severe punishment to the offending mine owners, however MLPC will push to make proof of registration a condition to obtaining clearance from the State for mineral trade. The making public of all the mining leases will allow victims of silicosis, who were previously unaware in whose mines they were working, to file compensation claims against mine owners,
4. Following an Order from the NHRC, the families of 21 deceased victims of silicosis have received an ex-gratia payment of Rs 3 lacs from the Rajasthan Government. This will be extended to another 14 victims. However, in a significant move the State has set up the Pnemoconiosis Medical Board on the 24.1.13 under the Rajasthan Workmen’s Compensation (Occupational Diseases) Rules 1965. This should allow workers suffering from asbestosis and silicosis to be diagnosed by experts and obtain compensation speedily. Seventy-two workers with silicosis will receive compensation from the Construction Welfare Board and rehabilitation.
5. The meeting will review the progress every 3 months.