Bangalore: Union Minister for Labour and Employment M Mallikarjun Kharge on Monday said the Centre is considering a further hike in the interest rate on Provident Fund from present 9.5 per cent.

We are contemplating further increasing the interest rate on Provident Fund from the present 9.5 per cent. The interest rate on EPF (Employees Provident Fund) was increased to 9.5 per cent recently.

“This time also we want to give more to the employees. We are working towards it,” he said while inaugurating the Southern Zonal Office of Director General of Mines Safety here.

Kharge also said the Ministry was bringing in 32 amendments to the Mines Safety Act formulated in 1952 wherein a number of stringent steps would be introduced for the safety of mine workers.

“The steps include increasing the penalty for violating mines safety norms from Rs 1,000 to Rs 1 lakh. In cases where a penalty of Rs 5,000 was being imposed, it will be increased to Rs 5 lakh.

“Similarly the punishment (for violating safety norms) will be increased from one year to five years imprisonment and in cases where the person was sentenced to three years, it will go up to seven,” he said.

Kharge said the main objective of bringing the amendments was to make “all those concerned with the mines-- from the owner to the agent to the director-- accountable for the safety of mine workers.”

The industry also had to be alert and take precautions to avert any disaster instead of acting only after the disaster takes place, he said.
 “The proposed amendments have already been introduced in the Rajya Sabha and are now before the Standing Committee,” Kharge said.

The minister appealed to Union Minister of state for Mines, Dhinsha J Patel, who was present on the occasion to instruct the officials in his department to direct mining lease holders to accord top priority to the safety of mine workers.

Kharge said Karnataka, which was under the control and jurisdiction of earlier Southern Zonal Office based at Hyderabad, would now come under the new zonal office.

“We are also thinking of opening a regional office and also a sub-regional office here provided we get the required sites for it. We will be writing to the Bangalore Development Authority and Karnataka Housing Board on this issue,” he said.

Earlier, Patel said the Central government provides the guidelines for mining and it was for the state government to enforce it stringently.

He said granting of mining leases also comes under the purview of the state. “It is the state which earns royalty from it (mines),” he said.

Apart from bringing in amendments to the Mines Safety Act, the ministry was also considering reviving the mines which have been closed, he said.