The Rajasthan human rights commission has censured the state government for failing to check illegal mining, mounting pressure on the authorities to clean up a sector which exposes workers to life-threatening health hazards.
A report by the commission -- submitted to the government on December 5 -- pointed out that 57 miners have died from silicosis, a health condition marked by inflammation and scarring of lungs due to prolonged exposure to fine dust. The report also said that as many as 891 cases of silicosis have been detected so far among miners, sources said.
The issue of illegal mining in the state has been a controversial issue for many years now, especially in view of the dangers it posed to the health and lives of the miners who are forced to work without masks, gloves and helmets.
Last month, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) had asked the Rajasthan government to pay Rs 3 lakh each to the next of kin of five labourers who were buried alive in a mining accident in 2012.
The state government had refused aid saying that the workers had died during illegal mining in Alwar district.
In a damning observation, the NHRC had also noted that if illegal mining was taking place on a large scale, it could not be without “connivance and negligence” of some state government officials. The state rights panel’s report, too, suggested that the government speed up rehabilitation and compensation of workers and suspend licenses of unregistered mines.
SHRC member Dr MK Devrajan, who prepared the report, confirmed that the rights body has submitted its findings to the “state and central governments to take action on the recommendations.”
He, however, refused to divulge details saying the report would now be placed in the state assembly.
The panel had taken up a suo moto case on illegal mines on the basis of media reports. Sources who had accessed the report said the panel’s recommendations include introduction of wet drilling which could reduce chances of silicosis by 90% to 95%.
Rajasthan has 67 types of minor minerals — mainly gravel and sand from river banks -- and the operations are spread across 20 of 33 districts of the state.
It has the country’s highest number of mining licenses issued at 33,000. Rana Sengupta, managing trustee and CEO of the NGO Mine Labour Protection Campaign Trust said, “In the last 10 years not a single case has been filed by a mineworker under the Workmen Compensation Act in Rajasthan since they have no evidence of employment as no registers is maintained.”
He also said the government’s ex-gratia amount was inadequate. As of now, the government pays ex-gratia of Rs1 lakh to those detected with silicosis/asbestosis and Rs 3 lakh to families of the deceased.
In its report, the commission has also recommended formation of a monitoring committee to overcome the problem posed by multiplicity of agencies. As per labour laws, mining is a state subject while mining workers are under the union’s jurisdiction.
Thus allotment of mines, collection of revenue is done by the state government while safety and security of workers is responsibility of the central government, he added.