States neglecting silicosis: NHRC

Human rights commission calls for collective efforts to provide healthcare, compensation to victims and kin

By Sonal Matharu
Published: Monday 07 May 2012

The National Human Rights Commission has slammed the Centre and state governments for neglecting workers who are suffering from silicosis—an incurable lung disease caused due to inhalation of silica in dust. The reprimand is in the form of a note that followed the commission's fourth review meeting in New Delhi that concluded on May 4. 

Over the year, the commission has received over 80 complaints from across the country from people suffering from silicosis. People working in mines that generate silica dust, stone crushing units, quarries, construction sites and glass cutting factories are susceptible to the disease.

NHRC says the disease remains neglected as the states have failed to conduct survey of industries generating silica. They have also not submitted answers to NHRC’s 10-point questionnaire on whether they have assessed the work done on silicosis. “No state can claim that there is no mining or an industry which does not generate silica,” says NHRC.

Barring Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Puducherry there is nothing concrete done by most of the authorities at the centre and the states for the labourers who work in the unorganized sector and catch silicosis, says the NHRC note.

“The commission is fighting for the rights of 94 per cent workers in the country who are employed in the unorganised sector. They are not entitled to any healthcare benefits offered by the states that are given to workers who are employed in the organised sector,” says Chandra Kant Tyagi, presenting officer of NHRC.

Stressing that the Centre should organise a national conference of chief ministers and concerned ministers of all states and Union territories to address the issues relating to silicosis, P C Sharma, member of NHRC, says, “All the regional meetings on silicosis have been disappointing as the states have failed to give any proper action plan and showed total apathy to the issue of silicosis.” He adds that the states do not appear to be serious about tackling the disease.

Workers’ rights are getting neglected despite the Factories Act, Labour Act and Minimum Wages Act and there is no regulatory mechanism to scrutinise issues relating to health, wages, relief and rehabilitation in case a person becomes a victim of occupational hazards, notes NHRC. There is a need to make a collective effort to ensure preventive measures, diagnostic facilities, compensation and rehabilitation of the victims of silicosis and their families, the commission adds.

No record of the afflicted

There is no reliable data in the country on how many workers are at present suffering from silicosis. The numbers could be anywhere between three to 10 million, says Jagdish Patel, director, People’s Training and Research Centre, a Vadodara-based non-profit. “There is no record of how many people die of silicosis each year and how many are living with the disease. The government has no will to even find out the number because then they will have to give compensation to the patients,” he says.

Sharma says NHRC’s approach to silicosis is rights-based, which includes right to health and right to life. It is the responsibility of the states to ensure people get these rights, he adds.

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