The fund will be used to execute a comprehensive policy on the disease, which is widely prevalent in the mining state
Rajasthan has announced the creation of a Pneumoconiosis Fund, which will be majorly financed by money from the District Mineral Foundation (DMF). This Fund will be used to finance a comprehensive policy on the disease released by the Rajasthan government on October 3, 2019.
Pneumoconiosis, a lung disease, mostly affects workers who work in the mining and construction sectors and deal with soil, silica, coal dust and asbestos. The disease includes asbestosis, silicosis and coal workers' pneumoconiosis.
“The aim of the policy is to streamline the strategy to deal with pneumoconiosis. For the first time, we are looking at a strong preventive mechanism and better assistance to the victims and their families,” Akhil Arora, principal secretary of Rajasthan’s Social Justice and Empowerment Department, said.
The Fund will be operating under this department. It will include pension for patients and their families after the patient’s death and their inclusion in the state’s social security schemes, which will be over and above the compensation paid.
Rajasthan is one of the leading mining states of India, with a distinction of having more than 33,000 mine leases, the highest in the country. Most of these are sandstone mines and quarries.
It is also the state with a high prevalence of pneumoconiosis, including silicosis. According to data from the state silicosis portal, more than 55,000 cases of silicosis have been registered for medical verification across all of Rajasthan’s districts from 2016 till date.
According to a 2018 report by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, the number of deaths due to silicosis had increased in Rajasthan from 1 in 2013-14 to 235 in 2016-17.
Various mine workers organisations and unions had been demanding a comprehensive framework to address the issue and provide due compensation to the patients over the last decade.
DMF funds to the rescue
With the institution of DMF under the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Amendment Act, the state found the resources to address the issue comprehensively, said a senior official from Bhilwara district.
Non-profit DMF trusts have been established in every mining district of India to “work for the interest and benefit of people and areas affected by mining related operations”.
Earlier, the state government was just providing a compensation of Rs 4 lakh to the silicosis patient, of which Rs 1 lakh was paid to him / her and Rs 3 lakh to the family after the patient’s death.
This was paid through the Rajasthan Environmental Health Administration Board (REHAB), constituted under the Rajasthan Environment and Health Cess Rules, 2008.
After DMF was instituted, REHAB was discontinued. The compensation was revised to Rs 5 lakh (Rs 2 lakh to the patient and Rs 3 lakh to the family after the patient’s death).
DMF will be one of the biggest components of the Pneumoconiosis Fund. It will also bring in convergence of other available funds such as Building and Other Construction Workers (BOCW) Welfare Fund, the state budget, and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).
The state level fund has been created so that pneumoconiosis patients can be helped even in districts where DMF funds are not substantial. In Rajasthan, districts like Bhilwara, Rajsamand, Udaipur, Chittorgarh and Ajmer have a sizeable DMF accrual each year ranging from Rs 250 crore to Rs 100 crore.
Prevalence of pneumoconiosis, however, reaches beyond these districts to others such as Bharatpur, Dholpur, Sirohi and Karauli, where massive quarrying activity is ongoing. These districts, in fact, report the highest number of cases along with Bhilwara and Ajmer.
Arora said that DMF funds were already being used at the district level for compensation to silicosis patients. However, permissions from the governing body were required each time a case had to be added.
Also, there are other districts where DMF funds are not available. “Hence, we are creating a state fund where different resources will be converged and disbursement can be made as required,” Arora added.
The proportion of contribution from various funds will be decided in the coming days.
“It is the first and important step to address one of the big concerns in Rajasthan’s mining areas. DMF has to ensure the benefit of people who are affected and focusing the funds for this is a welcome step,” Srestha Banerjee, programme manager, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), Delhi, said.
Prevention and rehabilitation
The policy recognizes prevention as a major focus because pneumoconiosis, once contracted, is a terminal illness. For this, all mines and industries having dust hazards will be registered and notified as hazardous and brought under a tight regulatory framework to ensure protective equipment and dust suppression measures.
For early detection of cases, training of health workers and doctors, placing better screening systems at health centres will be ensured.
“So far, most of the silicosis cases were given treatment for tuberculosis, leading to eventual detection in advanced stages. If early detection is ensured, the chances of survival are good,” Rana Sengupta from the non-profit Mine Labour Protection Campaign, said.
The policy also looks at a comprehensive patient rehabilitation and pension for patients and their families. It introduces pension for patients and after their passing, to their families irrespective of income criteria. It also calls for creating livelihood opportunities for silicosis patients and their kin.
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