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India’s Silicosis Victims Demanding Action from the Government

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Quartz mining industries are hungry for labor in India’s state of Gujarat – but the cost for workers can be immense.

Quartz is high in silica, used for making everything from glass to insecticides.

But quartz crushing can lead to silicosis, when deadly silica dust settled in the lungs.

Hundreds have died from the disease, and victims are not getting the help they need.

Most of the victims come from the neighboring district of Madhya Pradesh.

Since then both governments of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh have been ordered to compensate and rehabilitate the victims.

Shuriah Niazi visits Madhya Pradesh and listens to the victims.

Dev Singh hasn’t worked for three years now.

This 19-year old teenager is suffering from silicosis – he’s short of breath, always coughing, has no appetite and is fatigued all the time.

“I have tried everything, but no treatment helps. I sold all my belongings for treatment. Those who are working in these factories are slowly dying. Silicosis is an irreversible condition with no cure. No one has recovered so far in our area from this disease.”

Because of the disease, he came back to his hometown in Madhya Pradesh.

He was part of the big migration to the neighboring district of Gujarat when severe drought struck in 2005.

They were all working at almost four dozen quartz industries in Gujarat after a large deposit of the mineral was found in the 1970s.

According to Indian labor law, workers in these factories must wear safety masks.

But many only cover their noses with handkerchiefs – the factory owners don’t give out masks, to save on costs.

Karan Singh did not know anything about silicosis before working in the factory.

He is only 23 years old but now he looks twice his age because of the disease.

“I have already spent 1200 US dollars on treatment, but it’s not working. It hurts a lot. I am unable to do any work. I have lost everything, money and health, by working in Gujarat. I feel that the government must taken action against those factories owners. We never knew about the diseases we could get by working in those factories.”

Treatment for silicosis is covered under the Employees’ State Insurance Law applied in India.

Those who have been working for more than 180 consecutive days are entitled for free medical facilities and family compensation if they die of the disease.

But most of the workers from Madhya Pradesh did not have legal working contracts.

There are thousands more migrants from other parts of India working in these factories.

Rakesh Malviya is a freelance journalist who investigated this issue.

"Deprived of traditional rights and without a means of livelihood, the poor people of these villages desperately need some work to sustain themselves and their families. They are forced to migrate to survive. This migration has been continuing unabated for the past five or six years — and one of the terrible outcomes of this large-scale migration is silicosis."

Two years ago the National Human Rights Commission of India listed 238 silicosis deaths in three districts of Madhya Pradesh.

The Commission given four consecutive orders for the government of Gujarat to compensate these workers of 6,000 US dollars for each affected workers and their families – but nothing has happened.

A local NGO called Shilpi Kendra has been fighting for the workers’ rights. The director Amulya Nidhi regrets both governments for not making concrete actions.

“The National Human Rights Commission had asked the Gujarat government in 2010 to give compensation to the families of 238 workers who died of silicosis. Similarly, the government of Madhya Pradesh was also asked to make a rehabilitation plan for these workers.  But nothing has been done so far.”

Vasanbhai Ahir is the Junior Minister for Social Welfare in Gujarat.

“We have yet to decide about compensation. We cannot give compensation arbitrarily We have to see what can be done on this issue. Our officials have held some discussions with agencies involved and the matter will be settled soon.”

The number of victims has doubled over the last two years – at least 450 people have died in Madhya Pradesh alone.

The government of Madhya Pradesh is responsible for the rehabilitation plan but it has yet started.

SC Patel is the head of the Labour Department in Madhay Pradesh’s Jhabua district.

“We are planning to provide them houses under various government housing projects in the area. We are also thinking about giving them help through welfare schemes. We also ask them not to migrate to Gujarat for work. We would soon implement more schemes for them.”

Last month hundreds of silicosis victims met the governor of Gujarat Dr. Kamla Beniwal.

They submitted a memorandum regarding the “insensitive and indifferent attitude” of the government to their plight.

Karan Singh was with the delegation.

He lost his brothers and father to silicosis, and he is a victim of the disease too.

He demands financial support for his treatment.

“The government should follow the order of NHRC for giving compensation to us. We could use that money for our treatment. We have no money with us.”


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