The Sad Plight Of The Indian Miners: Why Do They Even Risk Their Lives When They Get Nothing In Return

Posted on September 10, 2012 in Specials

By Harsh Choudhary:

In 2009, India (526 million tonnes) was the third biggest hard coal producer after China (2,971 Mt) and the USA (919Mt). 85 per cent of coal is produced by the Coal India Limited (CIL), the world’s largest coal mining company, currently employing around 380,000 permanent workers and running around 500 mines in India. The major causes of this development are the miners’ classes who are engaged in mining, both permanent and temporary. Mining in India is a multi-billion industry and a closer look clearly tells us how terrible the condition of miners is.

The local newspapers of the places like Dhanbad, which are engaged in mining, are often filled with reports of accidents and protests. The mining Industry comes under the State Government as well as Central Government. Only after a thorough study of the scenario of Indian Mining Industry do we realize that the government overlooks the mining operators and their responsibilities towards the miners’ rights. The lawlessness in the mining sector is hard to ignore and prevails in the entire industry. Illegality in mining causes high losses to the State Government which results in the unpredictable shutting down of mining operations, ultimately affecting the workers. In the last three decades the mining industry is progressing at about 4% per annum. However, the price of this progress is high and is sadly being paid by the mine workers themselves in the form of their low wages and unstable jobs.

The bigger problem is the failure of key regulatory mechanisms to ensure that the legal mine operators comply with the law and respect human rights. The mine workers are often deprived of their miner’s rights as well as basic human rights. Mining operations often cause immense destruction when the government does not exercise proper measures for the miners’ safety, which is a major concern. Then comes the miners’ jobs. In 1970-1980, miners were required to be acquainted with some official to get a permanent job. The industry often gives jobs to the young people at low wages. Despite the fact that the mining industry is growing well, the profit coming out of it has not really grown much. It’s not that the wages have been increased but the production output is not efficient.

Several projects provide incorrect or deliberately misleading information to allow them to go forward. That is like playing games with the miners’ security and rights. These projects are exclusively for personal profits with no concern whatsoever about the miners’ development or their rights. These projects thoroughly comprise corruption and illegal activities and that is what the starting point for them happens to be. One must note that 2600 authorized mining operations in India indulge in indiscriminate mining in addition to that of illegal mining.

Mine workers are cheated of their legitimate dues. Slaughter mining, lack of conservation and unscientific mining methods are the characteristics of large areas of the industry. The mine owners have been successfully preventing any form of progress towards the implementation of the numerous recommendations of the different committees made over the years. Rampant corruption, forced labour, dubious and duplicate records, under-reporting of production, non-payment of full wages, extended hours of shifts without payment, lack of safety and welfare measures, robbing of pillars of coal and mining at a shallow depth in a haphazard manner, seem to be the guiding principles of a large number of private operators. Violations of mine safety laws are widespread. The extensive fires and collapses are a result of unscientific mining being practiced over the years. Mine ventilation is poor, the support is inadequate and the safety equipment is conspicuous by their absence. The hazards to which workers are exposed have been a matter of severe criticism.

Though the situation has improved considerably in some of the areas, many problems of the past remain and need to be addressed sincerely at this point in time. The quest for development has to go hand in hand with rapid industrialisation. Safety considerations certainly assume a more important position and emerge as a significant factor even when purely on an economic base. At the same time, modern society is also tending more and more to demand a safe and decent work environment, as a social need. We have the tools and skills, and thus achievement through tremendous humanitarian and economic benefits is within the realm of practical possibility.