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The Mines Act 1952: Protecting Workers' Rights and Ensuring Workplace Safety

ABSTRACT

Human rights and mine safety go hand in hand as both are essential for creating a just and sustainable mining industry. India has a tradition of deriving the majority of its economic output from “mining”. The majority of miners often work in dangerous and physically demanding environments, exposed to risks. To overcome this Indian government framed The Mines Act in 1952, which regulates and governs the working conditions and safety provisions in mines. To understand it better this blog highlights the crucial role of this legislation, showcasing its impact in safeguarding miners, setting regulations, and fostering a secure working environment.


KEYWORDS: Mines Act, safety, protecting, workers, wellbeing, hazardous.


INTRODUCTION

Prior to the Mines Act, mine workers faced severe exploitation by mine owners. They worked in extremely dangerous environments without adequate safety measures, faced long working hours, received low wages, and lacked basic welfare facilities. Accidents were also common, and the absence of strict protocols exacerbated the risks. Miners faced the constant danger of explosions, cave-ins, flooding and fires, which ultimately resulted in severe injuries, disabilities, and in some cases loss of life. The absence of all these emergency response systems further complicated the matter.

Additionally, miners worked long and difficult hours. They often worked beyond working hours. Fatigue and weariness were common among them, which in turn affected their working capacity to complete activities safely and effectively. Workers were economically vulnerable and unable to attain a fair standard of living for themselves and their families because they were paid less for more work. The need for reforms to improve these conditions become apparent, leading to the formulation and implementation of the Mines Act 1952. This landmark legislation aimed to rectify the prevailing issues, improve working conditions and safeguard the rights and well-being of workers in the mining industry.[1]


NEXUS BETWEEN CONSTITUTION OF INDIA AND MINES ACT, 1952

The link between the Article 21 and 24 of Indian Constitution makes it clear that Indian Constitution and Mines Act, 1952 go hand in hand. The former provides the overall framework of rights and principles, and the latter acts as the legislative manifestation of those values by defending workers' rights and ensuring workplace safety in the mining industry.

  • Article 21- This article guarantees the right to life and personal liberty. This right includes the right to safe and healthy environment.[2]

  • Article 24- This article restricts the employment of children who are below the age of 14 years in hazardous occupation.[3]

Hence, Mines Act, 1952 contributes to the realization of these fundamental rights by providing regulations that ensure the safety well-being and safety of mines workers.


OBJECTIVES OF MINES ACT, 1952

To understand the aims, objectives, and limitations of this Act, it is important to define what 'Mines' are. The term 'mines' is defined in Section 2(i) of the Act as “Any type of evacuation or extraction performed on the earth's crust in order to obtain minerals.” The following are the aims and objects of Mines Act, 1952:[4]

  1. Protection of workers

  2. Health and sanitation measures

  3. Safety provisions

  4. Welfare Amenities

  5. Appointment of inspectors

  6. Prohibition of child labour[5]

The act extends to the whole of India. Section 1(3) of the Act provides that” the act shall come into force on such date or dates as the central government may, by notification in the official Gazette directs.” [6]


GLIMPSE INTO WORSTS MINING ACCIDENTS IN INDIA

Mining accidents are unfortunate accidents that happen during the extraction of minerals or metals from the earth. Every year, thousands of miners lose their lives in these accidents, particularly in underground coal mining. However, accidents can also occur in hard-rocking mining. Coal mining is considered more dangerous than hard rock mining due to factors like flat rock layers, unstable rock formations, the presence of methane gas, and coal dust.[7]

Below mentioned are a glimpse of accidents in the mining sector.

  1. Chasnala mining disaster- This disaster occurred in the Dhanbad coalfield in Jharkhand. It was one of the deadliest mining accidents in Indian history. In 1965 an explosion and subsequent flooding in the mine killed around 375 people.[8]

  2. Rajpura Dariba Mine VRM disaster- Due to the problem in the stope of a VRM(Vertical Roller Mill), the mixture of materials (slurry) couldn’t settle properly causing it to overflow through the main shaft. Despite attempts to separate the operational and construction areas with a shaft plug, the accumulated material proved too much, leading to the tragic loss of all 13 mine workers who drowned in the mine.[9]

IMPORTANT PROVISIONS UNDER THE MINES ACT, 1952

The Act compasses various essential provisions that prioritize the well-being of workers and establish essential regulations for ensuring workplace safety in the mines industry. The provisions are:

  1. Provisions as to Health and Safety (Section 19-21): Section 19 states the provisions of drinking water. Effective measures and arrangements should be there in mine to provide good content and supply of cool drinking water. Section 20 talks about conservancy, that there must be enough latrines and urinals that are designated for males and females separately. They should be properly lit and maintained in a clean and sanitary condition. Whereas, section 21 talks about medical appliances and states that first aid boxes should be provided in every mine to be readily accessible during their working hours. Also, arrangements should be done for the conveyance to hospitals or dispensaries, of persons who suffered any bodily injury in mine or become ill.[10]

  2. Provisions as to Hours and Limitation of Employment (section 28-46): These provisions ensure that there will be a weekly day of rest allowed and no person shall be allowed to work in mine for more than six days a week.

  3. Compensatory days should be given to them if deprived of any weekly days of rest. This section states the hours of work above the ground and below the ground. According to section 30, no adult person shall be employed above the ground for more than 48 hours in any week or for more than 9 hours in a day. Similarly, section 31 states that no person shall be employed below the ground for more than 48 hours in any week and 8 hours a day. Section 45 prohibits the presence of persons who are below 18 years of age, in mine. [11]

  4. Provisions as to Leave and Wages (section 52-55): Every mine worker who has worked for one calendar year will be entitled to a leave with wages. If a person working in a mine is granted a leave of at least 4 days, they must receive their wages for the entire leave period before their leave starts. In case, if the owner, agent or manager of min fails to pay the wages or a significant amount owed to the workers, it can be recovered as delayed wages under the Payment of Wages Act,1936.[12]

IMPORTANT LEGAL RULINGS

1. Indian Council for Enviro Legal Action (ICELA) v. Union of India (1996)[13]

Supreme Court of India emphasized the need to strict compliance with safety regulations under the Mines Act. The court highlights the duty of mine owners and operators to prioritize workers’ safety.

2. Common Cause v. Union of India (2017)[14]

This case involves the violation of safety norms in coal mines, leading to numerous accidents and loss of lives. The Apex court ordered the government to ensure strict adherence with safety provisions and urged mining operators to prioritize the well-being and safety of workers.


AUTHOR’S ANALYSIS

Ensuring the safety of workers in mines requires a multi-faceted approach which includes various aspects of planning, implementation and continuous improvement. First and foremost strict adherence to safety regulations is crucial. Which involves conducting risk assessments, identifying potential hazards and implementing effective control measures.

Furthermore, adequate training and education must be provided to workers and all those skills that are necessary to mitigate the challenges of mining environments safely. It should be ensured that all safety equipment is periodically serviced and meet all the current regulation.

Besides this accepting technology advances in mining operations such as automation, remote monitoring and real-time processing. Install the proper system for detecting and preventing accidents, monitoring worker health, and improving overall performance.

Ultimately, it requires a collaborative effort, dedication to safety, and a proactive approach to identify and address potential risks to mines.


CONCLUSION

The Mines Act, 1952 represents an important milestone in protecting employees’ rights and assuring workplace safety in the mining industry, The Act covers critical issues such as workers' protection, safety standards, and welfare facilities through its provisions. It also emphasises the significance of establishing a strong safety culture, conducting risk assessments, providing proper training and imposing penalties for non-compliance.

However, it is important to recognize the existing gaps in this field and work towards filling them. By addressing these gaps through continuous evaluation and collaboration, we can further enhance the effectiveness of the Mines Act and create safer and more secure working environments for miners. It is our collective responsibility to strive for continuous improvement and reduces the chances of accidents in mining industries.


REFERENCES [1] Anshita Surana, All You Need To Know About Mines Act, 1952, GET LEGAL INDIA: https://getlegalindia.com/mines-act/ . [2] INDIA CONST. art. 21. [3] INDIA CONST. art. 24. [4] The Mines Act,1952, No. 6, Acts of Parliament, 1952 (India). [5] S.N MISHRA, LABOUR AND INDUSTRIAL LAWS 1143 (Dr. Sunil Yadav, 29th ed. 2022). [6] S.N MISHRA, LABOUR AND INDUSTRIAL LAWS 1145 (Dr. Sunil Yadav, 29th ed. 2022) [7] Mining accident, WIKIPEDIA, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mining_accident [8] Sundeep Khanna, Backstory: The Chasnala mining tragedy of 1975, CNBC TV 18 (Jun 23, 2021, 04:29 PM), https://www.cnbctv18.com/views/backstory-the-chasnala-mining-tragedy-of-1975-9754561.html [9] Rajpura Dariba Mine VRM disaster, WIKIPEDIA, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rajpura_Dariba_Mine_VRM_disaster [10] Akella Poornima, The Mines Act, 1952: A Comprehensive Analysis, IPLEADERS, (Dec 09, 2019), https://blog.ipleaders.in/the-mines-act-1952-a-comprehensive-analysis/#Provisions_as_to_Health_and_Safety [11] Akella Poornima, The Mines Act, 1952: A Comprehensive Analysis, IPLEADERS, (Dec 09, 2019), https://blog.ipleaders.in/the-mines-act-1952-a-comprehensive-analysis/#Provisions_as_to_Health_and_Safety [12] Akella Poornima, The Mines Act, 1952: A Comprehensive Analysis, IPLEADERS, (Dec 09, 2019), https://blog.ipleaders.in/the-mines-act-1952-a-comprehensive-analysis/#Provisions_as_to_Health_and_Safety [13] Indian Council for Enviro-legal Action and Ors. v. Union of India and Ors, (1996) 1446, SCC (3) 212 (India) [14] Common Cause v Union of India (2017) 9 S.C.C 499 (India)

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