By Our Representative
Regretting that the Gujarat government has still not taken any policy decision to pay assistance for the welfare of those suffering from silicosis, a fatal occupational disease, the health rights NGO People’s Training and Research (PTRC), has wondered why is this happening even though there exists a government resolution (GR) of 2014 to offer Rs 1 lakh to the unorganized sector workers who die an unnatural death.
In a letter to the state labour minister, Jagdish Patel, director, PTRC, said, while compensation is paid to the kin of the unorganized sector workers who die due to silicosis, the procedure remains extremely complex.
Once a death is registered, the village labour officer has to forward the cause of the death to the Department of Industrial Safety and Health (DISH), which is examined by the Department of Labour, which finally sends payment order to the village labour welfare board.
While some of the victims’ families have received death compensation, which is welcome, Patel demanded, the state government should monetarily help the workers suffering from silicosis under an aid scheme for silicosis victims.
Patel said, this is necessary because once workers become ill, their income stops completely, while the cost of treatment goes up. To meet the costs, they take debt, mortgaged land, have to sell jewellery and plunge into deep poverty.
While states like Rajasthan, Haryana, Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh have initiated steps to provide assistance to silicosis victims, why shouldn’t a rich state like Gujarat do it?, Patel wondered.
He added, complaint regarding silicosis was filed before the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in 2010. Based on the PTRC plea, NHRC on January 31, 2017 sought government decision to formulate a policy like the one in Haryana.
It is already two years. During this period, while help was offered against the death of some silicosis victims from Rajkot, Morbi and Surendranagar districts, the state government has not formulated any policy or declared welfare scheme to rehabilitate silicosis victims, the letter said.
The story of these stone quarry workers made headlines after the Supreme Court, in a rare order last week, directed the Gujarat government to release more than Rs 7 crore as compensation to the families of 238 workers who died due to silicosis after working in its quartz and stone crushing industries Godhara.
But for those like Manjhi, getting compensation from the Employee’s State Insurance Corporation (ESIC) that a Vadodara labour court ordered last year has proved to be a fruitless struggle. Some silicosis victims turned to religion for solace, and others alleged that they were handed tuberculosis cards by the local Primary Health Centre (PHC).