07 November 2011
New Delhi India
There have been several deaths due to silicosis—a lung disease—but compensation eludes workers as states resort to a legalistisc approach
The health of hundreds of thousands of mine workers in India is in danger as several states have ignored the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) directives on prevention of silicosis, an incurable lung ailment.
“Despite all states being reminded and sent guidelines regarding this malady (silicosis), the overall picture is dismal as state governments are in denial mode,“ NHRC Member PC Sharma told IANS.
Silicosis, a disease of lungs caused by the inhalation of dust containing free crystalline silica, is prevalent among labourers working in mines and quarry fields. It is said to be prevalent in states like Gujarat, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.
According to Sharma, there have been several deaths because of silicosis but no compensation is paid to the workers and they are denied proper treatment.
“States are evading their responsibilities by resorting to a legalistic approach. They deny the treatment to victims on the pretext of workers being migrant and from unorganised sectors who do not come under the Employees' State Insurance Corporation,“ laments Sharma.
The commission had received complaints about an apathetic attitude of state governments towards tackling the disease following which it had sent directives to them, but the human rights watchdog claims action remains only on paper.
“The states have to ensure that mining and quarrying sites are made wet. However, this is not in practice. There is no periodical health checkup of the labourers,“ Sharma said.
“It is the liability of states to look after the workers and it does not matter whether they are migrants,“ he added.
The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), in its report in 1999, had mentioned that around three million workers are at high potential risk of silica exposure.
“Having confirmed the prevalence of silicosis from the local authorities in states like Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Rajasthan, we apprised Chief Secretaries of this problem,“ Sharma said.
“Though Rajasthan has taken some positives steps, states like Gujarat, where a large number of confirmed cases of silicosis have been reported, are extremely rigid and legalistic in their approach,“ Sharma said.