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Government amending Mines Act to regulate working conditions

The Union Government has approved the introduction of a bill in Parliament to regulate the conditions of work and welfare of persons employed in mines.
The bill, approved by the Union Cabinet, seeks to amend the Mines Act, 1952 (35 of 1952) and consolidate the law relating to working conditions in mines and other related matter.

The bill seeks to provide for appointment of officials in addition to agent of employer in the mines. Besides, the bill seeks to revise the definition of owner in the Mines Act so as to make it more comprehensive and specific.

The government also seeks to increase the penalties provided in various sections and to shift the burden of proof upon the person who is being prosecuted or proceeded against.

The bill also will define the ‘foreign company’ with reference to the Companies Act, 1956.
The amendments envisage extending the Act to the whole of India, including territorial waters, continental shelf, exclusive economic zones and other maritime zones of India.

The Mines Act was last amended in 1983. Since then, several developments in the area of technology, scale of operations, working environment and work practices in coal, non-coal and oil sector have taken place.
Mining operations are getting more mechanized with the introduction of heavy machines, shallow deposits getting depleted and mines becoming deeper with their attendant complexities.

Also, operators from other parts of the world have started acquiring mining rights and managing mining operations within our country. All these developments have necessitated amendments to the Mines Act 1952, an official release said.

Brief on Amendments to Mines Act, 1952
  • In India the Mines Act was first enacted in the year 1901. The original Mines Act was replaced in 1923 and subsequently in 1952 the Parliament has enacted the present Mines Act. The Act was last amended in 1983.
  • Subsequent to the 1983 amendment, several developments have taken place in the area of technology, scale of operations, working environment and work practices in coal, non-coal and oil sector. Mining operations are getting progressively more mechanized with the introduction of heavy machines, shallow deposits getting depleted and mines becoming deeper with their attendant complexities.
  • Several Courts of Inquiry and Parliamentary Committees and Sub-Committees have also recommended in the past that the Mines Act, 1952 be amended so as to keep pace with time.
  • Therefore, the new preamble describes the Mines Act, 1952 as "An Act to amend and consolidate the law relating to regulation of condition of work and welfare of persons employed in mines and for the matter connected therewith or incidental thereto".
  • It is proposed to extend the jurisdiction of this Act upto the Exclusive Economic Zones an Maritime Zones of India as defined in the Territorial Waters, Continental Shelf, Exclusive Economic Zone and Other Maritime Zones Ac, 1976. (80 of 1976).
  • In order to prevent evasion of responsibility and any confusion regarding management hierarchy, the term ‘agent’ is being proposed to be submitted by a new definition whereby ‘Agent’ means every person, superior to the Manager and whether appointed as such or not, who, on behalf of the owner, takes part in the management, control, supervision or direction of the mine or any part.
  • The proposed definition of "Owner" means every person or authority having ultimate control over the affairs of the mine and specifies such person ( viz. Chief Executive Officer or Managing Director) or authority under all possible circumstances in the present scenario. The proposed definition is more comprehensive and is in line with the Companies Act, 1952 ( 1 of 1952).
    l It is further proposed to provide that every person who contracts for the services or operations in a mine, and includes a contractor and sub-contractor, shall also be the owner.
  • Mining being very hazardous where any negligence may lead to loss of lives, the penalties need to be made stringent, at least in line with those of other similar Acts, so that the offender is not let off with a token penalty, as is mostly the case. Hence penalties have been enhanced by about 100 times.
  • The burden to prove before an authority or court of law that all necessary measures had been taken and due diligence used to comply with the provisions etc. shall be that of the offender (section 74 A). This proposed provision is similar to the provisions contained in section 104A in the Factories Act, 1948 and section 16 and 17 of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.
  • The Prime Minister's Office on 24.2.2010 directed the Ministry of Labour & Employment to place the matter before the Committee of Secretaries for its consideration. The Committee of Secretaries has considered the proposal in its meeting held on 18.5.2010 and has decided that the Ministry of Labour and Employment may notify the proposed amendments to the Indian Mines Act, 1952 without affecting the existing rules made by the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural gas. The proposed amendments under the Indian Mines Act, 1952 will be over and above the rules as already notified by Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, and will be consistent with them.

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