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Silicosis victims of Khambat not in ambit of compensation

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has asked the state government to speed up the compensation process for silicosis victims who contracted the disease while working at the various agate units in the state.

Written by Anupam Chakravartty | Vadodara |
January 21, 2010 3:08:17 am

Most units are home-run and do not come under Factories Act

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has asked the state government to speed up the compensation process for silicosis victims who contracted the disease while working at the various agate units in the state.

But agate workers of Shakkarpur in Khambhat Taluka are yet to see the light of the day. Neither the district factory inspectors,district health officials nor the district administration is ready to address the issue of compensation.

The reason behind the state government’s apathy is that the Factories Act is yet to recognise the home-run units as registered factories.

Elsewhere,NHRC officials claim there has been no representation by the agate workers of Khambhat,which has been killing hundreds of workers,as per the estimates of the National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH).

“There has been no representation to NHRC regarding this issue of agate workers in Khambhat. If something was done as in the case of stone quarry workers from Godhra and Jhabua in Madhya Pradesh,then we would have intervened in the matter,” said NHRC Presenting Officer and Sessions Judge Chandrakant Tyagi.

But it is not that silicosis victims have not made any representation to the government. On January 13,around 15 workers from Khambhat,all patients of silicosis,made a representation led by R R Makwana to Anand Collector R N Joshi to apprise him and other administration officials about their helplessness.

“The officials from the collectorate simply took our letter and marked an acknowledgement,” said Makwana.

Joshi was unavailable for comments,but a collectorate official said that since most of these workers operate from home-based cottage industries,there is no way that compensation or any other benefits could be given to them.

NIOH invented a ‘wet method’ in order to lessen the effect of dust that arises from the agate units,but the machine turned out to be an expensive affair for the locals,said Makwana.

According to NIOH officials,the machine could lessen the dust by 93 per cent but would consume more electricity.

Makwana added: “We barely make our ends meet here. When a husband dies the disease,despite knowing the ill-effects of Akik (agate) ki Bimari (silicosis),the wife joins the business in order to survive. For every stone that we polish,we get about 25 paise and in a day one worker can earn up to Rs 25 to 30,” added Makwana.

According to the estimates by N D Vaghela,a factory inspector from Anand district,there are about 300-odd cottage units alone in Shakkarpur of Khambhat taluka of which only five units are recognised under the Factories Act.

“We routinely do our surveys to find if there are workers employed by these units,but it usually turns out to be their family members. Only five units are considered factories,which entitles them to the benefits of the Employees’ Insurance and other benefits,” added Vaghela.

Incidentally,in 2008,the Gujarat government had passed a notification wherein even if one worker was employed in any manufacturing unit,it had to be registered under the Factories Act.

“But,these people are all family members,not employed workers. So the question of bringing them under the notification doesn’t even arise,” said Vaghela.

Lack of medical facilities adds to woes of silicosis patients

VADODARA: FOR decades,people in Shakarpur village have died of silicosis,but government health officials diagnose them as tuberculosis patients in a bid to keep the silicosis statistics at bay,claim activists. To add to the villagers’ woes,the government Primary Healthcare Centre (PHC) is three kilometres away and lacks the basic infrastructure to differentiate silicosis from tuberculosis.

Elsewhere,it was found that patients who approach the government health officials are instead tagged into the tuberculosis category after the diagnosis,on the basis of the patients’ occupational history and the visible symptoms. “This practice is quite common due to the fear of legal hassles and questioning by the factory inspectors,” said Nayanjeet Chaudhary,from the Department of Community Medicine,Pramukh Swami Medical College,Karamsad.

Jagdish Patel,the director of People’s Training and Research Centre,an NGO,said: “In the past two-and-a-half years,the private clinics in the village which hold the weekly check-up units have tested 105 patients positive with silicosis of which 45 have died within the period. There are patients who voluntarily come to the clinics. The actual instances of silicosis affected patients are much higher than the official data.” Patients with pulmonary conditions who have been tested negative in the sputum test are sent for an X-Ray.

Since the symptoms of tuberculosis and silicosis are similar,only radiography can verify the condition of the patient. But the PHCs in the area with high intensity of silicosis have no chest disease experts appointed. Besides,they also lack the basic infrastructure of X-Ray,which is instrumental in the diagnosis of silicosis.

“We usually have a medical officer with the minimum qualification of MBBS in the PHCs. He is not an expert in chest diseases,but is trained to identify the suspected patients through sputum tests and occupational history,” said Swapnil Shah,Chief District Health Officer (CDHO),Anand.

— Debarati Basu

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