More than 15,000 labourers working in various mines across 16 districts in Rajasthan have been diagnosed with silicosis, a disease they caught on the job.
JAIPUR: Over 1000 men and women sat quietly at Shahid Smarak in Jaipur, Rajasthan on Aug 8, with a piece of white paper announcing their identity. The paper is a death warrant of their certain and imminent death due to silicosis; a disease they caught at their workplace.
According to data collected by a team of Suchna Evum Rozgar Ka Adhikar Abhiyan, more than 15,000 labourers working in various mines across 16 districts in Rajasthan have been diagnosed with silicosis. And more than 200 have lost their lives in the past three years.
Silicosis is a fatal respiratory illness caused by inhaling fine silica dust through prolonged exposure in sandstone mines and quarries. The victims develop stiff lungs, their breath becomes more laboured till the time they can’t breathe at all.
Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sanghatan (MKSS) and Suchna Evam Rozgar Ka Adhikar Abhiyan brought 1000 suffering patients for a public hearing on Wednesday. Silicosis patients from Jodhpur, Karauli, Sirohi, Chittorgarh, Ajmer, Rajsamand, Dhaulpur, Bhilwara, and Jaisalmer assembled at the venue. They made their demands known to the government of Rajasthan.
Put the silicosis patients in national and state list of disabilities; give them disability pension; BPL and labour card for silicosis patients; special ward in every district hospital for treatment of silicosis; amendment in disabilities act; monitoring of builders and mine owners; monitoring factories, mines, construction sites, where labourers get the disease; use district mineral foundation fund for these patients; amend DMFT rules to include silicosis causing occupations, only mine and building construction welfare workers get it as of now; every collector in areas of silicosis prone occupations, should conduct public hearings, with the participation of all stakeholders once in three months.
No end in sight for the suffering
Madan Singh, a patient and labourer from one of the mines in Sirohi district said that he didn’t receive any safety gear or equipment on the job. 63-year-old Nanda Singh Rawat from Bhilwada district coughs blood and can’t earn anymore after his diagnosis in 2016. He hasn’t received any compensation for the illness he caught in the mines.
Many like them have to cross lengths just to prove they suffer from the fatal illness to be able to get the compensation and prove that they have an occupational disease. If carrying the burden of proof was not enough, even after getting the certificate, many have been denied their rightful compensation.
There are long queues for workers waiting for a diagnosis, pending diagnosis results, pending compensation post diagnosis and pending after-death compensation to their families.
Nooparam from Sirohi district has been carving temple marble for 20 years. He and his wife suffer from silicosis and he still hasn’t received the compensation of Rs. 1 lakh. 45-year-old Ram Singh is still working in the mines even after he was diagnosed about two years ago. He hasn’t received his Rs. 1 lakh compensation after the diagnosis.
Malla Singh Rawat died from silicosis and left behind three young children studying in a govt school. His wife has incurred a debt of about Rs. 6 lakh. Even though she got Rs. 1 lakh after her husband’s diagnosis, she did not receive the Rs. 3 lakh compensation after he died. She is still working in the mines to overcome her financial crisis.
Laws haven’t been implemented
Many men and women in the 20 to 30 years age group have succumbed to the illness.
“In Rajasthan, in the last four years, 5,307 workers have been identified as suffering from silicosis by government medical boards. Activists say that the actual numbers are higher since many workers are not able to access the boards. Silicosis is among the list of occupational diseases recognised by the Employees Compensation law which dates back to 1923. The law mandates that employers pay compensation to workers who suffer injury or disease that may result in a worker's death or disability,” reported Scroll in 2016.
On August 9, 2016, Lok Sabha passed an amended law which makes it compulsory for employers to inform workers of their right to compensation in case of illness or injuries at the workplace and lists the penalties for employers who fail to do so.
Many mine owners and employers have conveniently shirked their responsibility in causing these deaths and have gone away scot-free without paying any compensation to their employees. No penalties have been slapped on them and no justice has been provided.
In the last five years, 14,064 mines have been inspected out of which 3,076 were found to have violated the regulations. Notices were issued to 998 and prohibitory orders were issued against 847. “The information was submitted to the top court by the Director General of Mines Safety in an affidavit, which also gave details of how many deaths have taken place due to silicosis in a decade. Rajasthan saw maximum casualties where 323 people died of the disease. The state spent ₹9.73 crore to compensate family members of the victims,” reported Hindustan Times.
“Under the Employee Compensation law, the workers would be entitled to more,” said Vikas Singh, a project officer with Gram Samajik Vikas Sanstha, an NGO that works with migrant workers to Scroll. “He estimated the amounts would be anywhere between Rs 5 lakh and Rs 10 lakh. “Mine owners make profits in crores,” he said. “Instead of penalising them for negligence and the failure to maintain employee records and attendance, the state government has merely fixed the relief amount on the court's directions,” he said in the report by Scroll.
The road ahead
After the public hearing, representatives of the rights groups, led by social activist Nikhil Dey, met the chief secretary, state human rights commission chairperson Justice Prakash Tantia and principal secretary for mines Aparna Arora, at the secretariat.
“The state human rights commission on Wednesday has assured us that they will hold public hearings in the silicosis-affected areas, beginning with tehsils having maximum pendency of compensation cases,” said Vikas Singh to HT.
“The chief secretary and principal secretary for mines have also assured the panel that a meeting of all departments will be called in August end to discuss and solve all the issues related to labourers, said Singh in the report.
“Aparna Arora, Mines secretary, met the workers and said that rations will be provided to all patients, the pending cases will be cleared within this week. She further added that the CM would decide on the compensation of Rs. 2 lakh after the death of a worker to the family member,” reported Times of India.