Silicosis in Mining & Industrial Areas of India


 Silicosis and Adivasi Video -

Report - 1

Forty-one labourers from Alirajpur, Dhar and Jhabua districts of Madhya Pradesh were diagnosed with Silicosis, a lung disease caused by silica dust. A first ever study by a Government agency confirmed how poor labourers from the tribal belt working at the quartz crushing units in neighbouring Gujarat contract the deadly disease due to constant exposure to silica dust.

“Lack of employment in the state drives the tribals of western Madhya Pradesh to work at the quartz crushing units in Gujarat where they are constantly exposed to silica dust. Previously the owners of these units blamed the deaths to tuberculosis and never compensated the workers,” said an official.

Following a direction from the National Human Rights Commission, the Central Labour Institute that functions under the Union Labour Ministry had conducted a three-day diagnostic camp in Alirajpur and Kukshi from February 25. As many as 26 out of the 178 patients examined at Alirajpur and 15 out of the 41 in Kukshi were diagnosed with Silicosis. Six patients have died since they were examined.

Scores of tribals in the central Indian state have died of Silicosis over the years but factory owners often disowned them because they were not registered with the company and died in their native villages.

The CLI report has given a ray of hope to these labourers who are suffering from the disease as the findings could help them get compensation. Activists working in the area told The Indian Express on Monday that a full bench of NHRC has decided to hear the matter related to the confirmed cases of Silicosis separately.

“Contractors of the Gujarat-based units visited the border districts of Madhya Pradesh in search of labourers in 2000 as it was increasingly becoming difficult for them to get labourers from local villages. The villagers reportedly had become aware of the hazards of working in the quartz units and the owners wanted unsuspecting labourers,” Jagdish Patel, director of Vadodara-based People’s Training and Research Centre said.

Source: Indian Express / Jul 22, 2008


Report - 2

Kailash’s wife is dead. His elder brother is dead. His two sisters are dead too. "Woh charon shaant ho gaye hain (they are all dead)," he says, rather impassively. In his mid-twenties, the resident of Badhghyar village in Kukshi block of Dhar district in Madhya Pradesh knows he is next.

Kailash is dying of the same disease as his family members — silicosis. It is incurable. He too worked with them in the Gujarat quartz crushing factories and breathed in silica dust that now covers the inside of his lungs, slowly choking him. He has watched most of his family die. He doesn’t require the doctors to tell him about his painful but short life ahead.

His body has already shrivelled up and his muscles have melted. A skeleton of his previous self, he finds it demeaning but lets his mother bathe him. His lungs blocked, breathless and short of oxygen for his blood, self-esteem is the last of his worries as his body refuses to build new cells while the older ones die. Eventually his system will collapse.

He is one of the hundreds of Bhil and Bhilala tribals in Jhabua and Dhar districts of Madhya Pradesh waiting to die. In a survey conducted in 2007 by a group of doctors in 21 villages of Jhabua, 158 people were found dead of silicosis. "266 others, who have been exposed to silica dust and are sick, will also eventually die," the doctors noted.

All of them had gone across the border to work in the quartz crushing units of Gujarat as unregistered daily wagers. In these factories, quartz stones are first broken by hammer into smaller ones, then crushed and powdered to be used to make glass. Large quantities of dust is generated in the process that the labourers inhale as they breathe deep due to the physically heavy workload involved.

"Initially, the crushing units hired tribals from Gujarat, but when deaths began to hit the tribal region there, the contractors came to Madhya Pradesh in early 2000. Young men and women, jobless in the summers, began to go across the border for what sounded an attractive proposition — Rs 50-60 as daily wages for three to four of the worst months of the year," says Magan, a member of the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangathan, a local NGO which helped the doctors carry out the extensive survey.

But when they returned from work, many died with similar symptoms. The Sangathan has filed a case in the Supreme Court. The local administration and the state government have been mostly unsympathetic to the villagers. The National Human Rights Commission is also hearing silicosis cases from across the country. "The disease may not be curable but it is preventable. The factories should be held responsible for exposing the labourers to silica dust," says Magan.

Munni, a Rordha resident in her mid-30s, has seen 13 members in her extended family die over two years. In all, 28 people have died of silicosis in her village. Those left take care of the orphans and the old. Unable to cope, they find novel ways of resigning to death all around.

"Greed is killing my daughter and others," says Anita’s mother, a resident of Badhghyar. Anita, in her teens, along with Kailash is one of the two surviving from the 14 that went together to work in Gujarat for that extra Rs 10 a day.

Source: TOI / 19 May 2008