New Delhi,6 May:It gives me immense pleasure to participate in the function for the presentation of the National Safety Awards in Mines for the years 2004, 2005 and 2006. At the outset, I congratulate every individual award winner for the exemplary work done in the area of mine safety. These awards, instituted by the Union Ministry of Labour and Employment in the year 1983, are tokens of appreciation and recognition by the nation for your extraordinary performance in the area of mine safety.
Minerals are a valuable natural resource providing vital raw material for infrastructure, capital goods and basic industries. The extraction and management of minerals has to be integrated into the overall strategy of any country’s economic development. This is more so, in our country, which is endowed with a wide variety of mineral wealth. Presently, the mineral sector contributes around 3.5 percent of our national GDP and provides direct employment to over one million on daily average basis. We should further aspire to expand the value chains of our key minerals in order to leverage our natural resources for faster economic development.
This year, we would be completing 107 years of having adopted legislative measures to protect persons working in mines from occupational hazards. During this period, the Indian mining industry has achieved considerable progress in production and productivity. Even in the sphere of safety movement there has been legislative action to a reasonable extent.
Today, the three most important challenges confronting the mining industry in India are the search for suitable and sustainable technology for exploration, exploitation and value addition to mineral resources; protecting the ecosystem and; improvement of health and safety aspects at work. These challenges need to be addressed in a constructive and innovative manner for which there is a need for investment of a substantive nature. The private sector should be encouraged to participate in it progressively, for which appropriate policy initiatives may be taken.
To exploit the country’s potential in minerals it is important that appropriate mining technologies are utilized to ensure scientific extraction and economic utilization. In this context, it is necessary to promote research and development in minerals and to simultaneously establish appropriate educational and training facilities for human resources development to meet the manpower requirements of the mineral industry.
A globalized world demands competitive and efficient functioning. This has resulted in the need for a new work culture and business environment in the mining sector. As mine operators look at ways and means to improve efficiency and cut costs, workers’ safety measures should also receive greater consideration. It is necessary that the mining industry adequately discharges its ‘social responsibility’.
Mining is – and always has been – a hazardous occupation. It is imperative that a culture of safety be developed within every organization where the core standard should be that "Safety is Number One". Investment in safety has a direct bearing on the overall performance of a mining company. More companies should put their efforts in creating a safe working environment and for measures to protect their workers by enhancing safety budgets. They should look at various techniques of risk assessment and risk management that can contribute towards improving safety levels during mining operations. The twin concepts of "Self-regulation" and "Workers’ Participation in Safety Management" have proved to be useful and have contributed to a decline in fatality rates. Their use should be further explored. Participation and cooperation of mine workers, as important stakeholders, in formulating safety measures must be secured. Delineation of rules and procedures to be followed by employees, responsibilities of employers, along with preventive and protective measures at the mines are important.
I would urge that steps also be taken to minimise the adverse impact of mining on the health of workers and the surrounding population. There is need for improvement in ecological conditions in order to provide a better environment to workmen and to local inhabitants in mining areas. Efforts to keep the environment free from pollution are essential for a sustainable mining industry.
Living conditions of coal miners can be improved by providing and improving basic facilities such as housing, water supply, medical care and education. Given its hazardous nature, despite safeguards, accidents happen and often result in the loss of life or limb of persons engaged in mining. Welfare schemes that provide financial security, health related care, housing and shelter for those disabled or injured in mining operations and for the old employees of companies after retirement should be put in place and implemented.
The needs of women engaged in the mining sector should get their due care and gender-sensitive approaches should be adopted towards this end.
I strongly believe that the mining fraternity in our country – industry, government, business, academics or research – is ready to take up the challenge and manage such changes responsibly to make the mining sector a secure work place as well as a powerful driver of the growth of the Indian economy.
I am confident that the National Safety Award in Mines has been and will continue to prove to be an excellent motivator for upholding safety and welfare standards in the mines of our country.