NEW DELHI: Consistently clocking negative growth for the past two years, the mining industry now has some good news: this has been the safest period with the number of fatal accidents hitting an all-time low of 112 in 2011 and rising marginally to 116 in 2012.
“Mining accidents and fatalities have gone down, but even a single death is unacceptable,”says Director General of Mines Safety Rahul Guha, who feels that lowering mining mishaps beyond this level would be a challenge and need concerted efforts and investments. The total number of accidents across coal, metal and oil mines, has more than halved in the last seven years, falling from 1,358 in 2005 to just 591 in 2012. Where fatalities are concerned, India has a better track record than China. According to official Chinese data, 1,384 workers died in coal mine accidents in 2012, sharply down from 1,973 people in 2011 and around 7,000 deaths recorded a decade ago. “One of the key reasons for better mine safety is the shift in technology from underground mining to open-cast mining. The decades of higher fatalities were those when there were underground mines,” explains Dipesh Dipu, partner at Jenissi Management Consultants, who feels that improving safety beyond this level would mean striving to bring accidents to zero.
Officials say that production from open-cast mines now accounts for over 95% of India’s mineral output, leading to a dramatic fall in miner deaths. “Earlier, when there was a mishap in a mine or the pithead collapsed, all the workers who were inside would usually die,” said Hind MazdoorSabha general secretary AD Nagpal. While the move to open-cast mining has helped, now there are more accidents involving heavy mining equipment, said the union leader affiliated to the Hind KhadanMazdoor Federation.
Â Accidents involving heavy earth moving equipment intensively used in open cast mining are a problem that the Directorate General of Mines Safety (DGMS) has flagged in the agenda for an upcoming tripartite meeting on mines’ safety. The increasing demand for minerals has led to the deployment of more and more high capacity heavy earth moving machinery, and there has been an increasing trend of accidents due to them, according to the agenda for the July meeting reviewed by ET.
Tapan Sen, general secretary of CPI(M)’s trade union arm CITU is worried about the higher incidence of outsourcing of mine operations to private players who liberally use contract workers and don’t consider safety as a priority issue. “Public sector mining companies at least maintain safety records, but that is not the case with private companies. In the last three years, 275 workers have died in coal mines and 800 were severely injured, most of whom were contract workers,” said Sen. The DGMS has also taken note of this and expressed concerns about the safety, health and welfare of contract workers. It is looking to create a framework at the tripartite meeting that sets responsibilities for principal owners and contractors of mines and assures workers of better working conditions. The mining safety regulator has also decided to focus on smallscale unorganised sector mining that dominates the extraction of minor minerals like sand, building stone, china clay, bauxite, feldspar and granite for road metal. “The compliance with laws in these mines leave much to desire and there is an acute shortage of supervisory staff,” which compromises workers’ safety, it has noted. Mine safety statistics have been officially compiled in India since 1900 and the latest data has been published in the labour ministry’s Outcome Budget.
The mining sector grew by 9.9% in 2009-10 and 5.9% in 2010-11, but contracted by 2% the year after that. In 2012-13, mining and quarrying activities shrunk by another 2.4%. The ongoing mining ban in states like Karnataka and Goa is partly to blame for the prolonged slowdown that has continued this April with a further 3% fall in output.