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NHRC awaits for Jharkhand government’s reply for silicosis victims

August 20, 2011

Ushinor Majumdar

Ushinor.Majumdar@hindustantimes.com

UM/ER/Aug 19, 2011

Ranchi: Compensation for families of silicosis fatalities and still-suffering workers is still far away as the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) awaits a response from the Jharkhand government for the last two years.

Mr CK Tyagi – retired civil judge and currently member, NHRC – is handling this particular case for the NHRC. He told HT on Friday, “We have asked the state government for their reply on confirming the cases of silicosis. They have asked for time to file their reply.”

Tyagi agreed that sufficient time has passed, “but,” he added, “if we see that there is any deliberate delay on the part of the government, we will take severe action this time.”

According to the NHRC, the case (no. 1013) was registered four years ago (in 2007) with the NHRC reporting 24 deaths and further casualties which were reported at that time. After the usual parlays between the complainant, an NGO, and the respondent, the state government, the government was asked to file a reply in 2009.

Two years hence – the reply is still pending as the state government gathers its papers to submit the long-awaited reply. According to Tyagi, on July 7, 2011, the state government had asked for two months time. Their time runs out on August 30, 2011.

While the NHRC waits for the state government’s reply, the issue faced by labourers continues to simmer. Most of Jharkhand’s mines extract minerals besides which there are stone-crushing units. The labourers working in these mines and the stone-crushing units as well as people living in these areas are exposed to stone and mineral dust.

According to Samit Kumar Carr of Occupational Safety and Health Association of Jharkhand (OSHAJ), there has been no credible study by the state government to show how many are affected.

Dr D K Jha – assistant professor (medicine) with Rajendra Institute of Medical Sciences (RIMS), Ranchi – says, “Silicosis is the diffused fibrosis of the lungs and one of the main indicators is the prolonged exposure to dust from stone-crushing, quarrying and sand-blasting in mines.”

According to Dr Jha, fibrosis is the formation of white non-functional tissues in the lungs, which can be seen in an x-ray and appears as white button-like nodules on the surface of the lungs.

Only a few months of exposure to the dust can result in silicosis. The disease is progressive and fatal, as it is untreatable.

According to Carr, if the silicosis issue is addressed, then other occupational diseases will also have to be taken up and acknowledged by the state and central governments and action taken, which will mean clamping down on industries that are flouting labour health and safety norms and compensation to those affected.

Aradhana Pattnaik – National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) mission director and labour commissioner for Jharkhand – told HT, “A joint programme with a cell called the Occupational Disease Detection Centre has also been set up to look into these issues.”

According to Aradhana, the labour, pollution, health departments and OSHAJ are working together now through a special cell called the Office of Disease Detection Centre.

The NRHM has been sanctioned funds of Rs 5 lakhs which they are using for sensitisation. There are 30 or 40 occupational diseases and the joint programmes  aim to address these through prevention and treatment programmes.

Carr says, “Sensitisation of the issue will be helpful but simultaneously there should be pilot projects for identification and elimination.”

1. Uses for silica:

Glass

Tiles

Electric Insulator

Rubber hose (stiffened using silicon)

Lining of blast furnace (iron)

Spraying on the moulds for iron ingots

Smoothening of asbestos pipes

2. More than 15,000 mines in Jharkhand:

10,000- 12,000 stone crushers

45-50 ramming mass units

192 iron ore crushers

50 sponge iron units

3. Metallic mineral diseases

SourceOccupational Disease

SilicaSilicosis

Iron DustSiderosis

Asbestos  Asbestosis

CoalCoal Worker Pneumoconiosis

BerylliumBerilliosis

StrontiumStroniosis

4. Figures:

Jharkhand contribution to national mineral production – 6.71% (2009-10)

Increase in mineral production in 2009-2010 from 2008-2009 – 11.34%

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