NHRC raps states for denying silicosis deaths

Down to Earth

Author(s): Sayantan Bera
Date: Jul 11, 2012

Issues show-cause notices to Jharkhand and Delhi for payment of monetary relief

After a wait of six years, Sadhana Das, 45, finally has some hope of getting compensated. Her son Sasthi Das had died in 2006 after working for three years in a quartz crusher unit in East Singhbhum district of Jharkhand. He was only 25. The landless family had to sell household utensils after exhausting all its savings to pay for Sasthi’s treatment. Sasthi and 21 of his fellow workers succumbed to silicosis, an irreversible lung disease, caused due to inhaling silica dust.  The company, K K Minerals, shut shop and opened another unit a kilometre away in Musabani block.  There is no known medical treatment for silicosis—victims report extreme weakness, breathing trouble, constant cough and weight loss, following which they die.

Sadhana DasSadhana Das holds up photographs of her son Sasthi who died of silicosis in 2006. He was only 25

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), according to its press releases on 9 and 10 July, 2012, hauled up the state governments of Jharkhand and Delhi. NHRC’s show-cause notice to the Jharkhand chief secretary asks the state to explain “why the next of kin of the 22 workers who died of silicosis be not recommended monetary relief”. The commission has also sought a report on “action taken regarding medical treatment and rehabilitation of workers who are suffering from silicosis and are alive.”

The show-cause notice issued to the Delhi  chief secretary notes: “prima-facie it is established that the Government of NCT of Delhi has failed to protect the 21 workers out of 44 from the occupational disease caused due to inhaling of silica in dust.” NHRC also wrote that subsequent to its notice to the Delhi government, it first denied that there was any case of silicosis among the mine workers of Lal Kuan. NHRC then constituted a medical team which confirmed silicosis. The issue was brought to the commission by PRASAR, a Delhi based non-profit.

K K Minerals K K Minerals has shifted its factory after 28 workers died due to silicosis, say the affected families. Medical reports of 22 could be arranged. Their case was taken up by NHRC

Silicosis is prevalent among workers involved in  extraction and cutting of quartzite, gneiss, granite and slate, foundries, glass manufacturing plants, brick making, manufacture of pottery, porcelain, refractory materials and siliceous abrasives, road building, demolition work where potential sites of silica exist and blasting work using explosives.

“The magnitude of the problem can be gauged by the fact that Jharkhand has a mining history of 200 years. Presently, the state has 15,000 dust generating mines and units and our estimate is that over 2.5 million workers are suffering from silicosis,” says Samit Kumar Carr, secretary general of the non-profit Occupational Safety and Health Association of Jharkhand (OSHAJ). Carr brought the plight of the families to the notice of NHRC and has painstakingly collected evidence—medical reports and X-ray plates—so that the families can receive compensation. “If compensation is awarded in one case, it will have ramifications for the entire country,” he says.

x-rayX-Ray plate of a silicosis patient. The silica dust enters the lungs and is deposited in the alveoli. They obstruct breathing

Jharkhand suspended doctor for diagnosing silicosis

The NHRC order notes a claim from the chief secretary of Jharkhand in May, 2011 that the state has no certifying surgeon who can diagnose silicosis. After the admission, NHRC handed him a letter from the deputy secretary of East Singhbhum, addressed to the principal secretary of Jharkhand (dated May 18, 2011). “It was mentioned in the letter that a team of doctors was constituted under the district mining officer in which six persons were found suffering from pneumoconiosis,” notes NHRC. Pneumoconiosis is a broader category of occupational lung disease, of which silicosis is one.

Down To Earth has a copy of a report submitted in March 2005 by a team of government doctors, signed by the in-charge of Musabani primary health centre, V Murli Krishna. The report mentions the following in its conclusion: “all the above patients examined by us, have had exposure to fine stone dust particles for prolonged periods, unprotected. They developed silicosis, some in early stage, and some in progressive massive fibrotic stage. The only treatment available for silicosis is prevention and avoidance to fine dust exposure.”

There were, in fact, eight people diagnosed by the medical team. All of them have died since. Sukhram Gop, who was diagnosed at “an early stage of silicosis”, died in December 2005, eight months after the report was submitted. “We never received a paisa for his treatment or any compensation after his death. They suspended Krishna for two years and later transferred him to Jamshedpur,” recalls Monika Gop, Sukhram’s widow who is now struggling to get her daughters married.

The denial by the Jharkhand government raises questions about whose interests the state is protecting. Silicosis is a “notifiable” disease under the Factories Act of 1948, implying each case has to be reported to the district authorities so that compensation and preventive measures can be taken. Further, it is a compensable disease under the Workman’s Compensation Act, 1923. For instance, Sasthi Das should have received nearly Rs 13 lakh in compensation.

About 30,000 silicosis deaths go unreported each year

“In India, millions who work in crusher units in Jharkhand, Gujarat, Rajasthan and other states are affected by silicosis. An estimated 30,000 die every year,” says Carr. “But till date not a single family received compensation. The disease could be prevented by using engineering controls like dust extraction devices which most units do not use to save costs. Doctors write tuberculosis instead of silicosis to avoid the legal obligation of reporting it to higher authorities,” he adds. The rap from NHRC might change things for better.


NHRC plans draft legislation on rights of patients

New Delhi: The National Human Rights Commission is mulling to come out with a draft legislation that seeks to protect the rights of patients and ensure that standard treatment is made available to everyone.

The Commission has also written to the Centre and state governments with regard to the rise in the number of people inflicted by silicosis, a respiratory disease caused by breathing in silica dust, asking them to take steps to give priority to such patients in all hospitals.

PC Sharma, member, NHRC, said the trend of patients “surrendering themselves before doctors” should end and every patient should have the right to know what kind of disease he has been inflicted with and the kind of treatment needed.

“We have asked the Government for the need (for a legislation). We are trying to make a draft with the help of NGOs. We are of the opinion that at least there should be a draft. Just as you can demand the right to education and equality, one should get the right to health also,” he told reporters here.

“We want a legislation which says that the doctor should tell the patient about his disease and other details. Now the patient goes and surrenders himself before the doctor. There are instances where doctors don’t listen to patients and just give them some medicines,” he said.

On silicosis, the NHRC member said all states have been asked to take precautions under the Industries Act and make sure that employees undergo periodic health check-up.

“We have also told the states that they should instruct hospitals that such patients should be treated immediately. Many hospitals don’t treat them by giving some reasons. This should be stopped,” he said.
Sharma said urgent attention has to be given for development of infrastructure in hospitals in the country and also expressed concerned over the “widespread” racket in sub- standard medicine.

He also said the NHRC wants the Centre to come out with an Act on prevention of silicosis as the disease affects mostly the poorer sections of the society.

Notices were sent to a number of states where deaths have occurred due to the disease and only Rajasthan responded positively by giving Rs three lakh to the families of the victims of silicosis.

“Silicosis, hitherto, remains a neglected area. This is a disease which is irreversible. Victims of this disease are mostly migrants who are in search of jobs. Protection to them is granted under labour laws, but these things are not followed,” he said.

He also claimed that in some cases state government authorities refused to look into complaints of people afflicted with the diseases because they were from the unorganised sector.

“This is the most serious grievous violation of human rights,” he said.

Sharma said the NHRC is also concerned about the lack of doctors in the field of mental health and asked the MCI to add mental health as part of curriculum for MBBS students.

He also said this disease cannot be cured only medically but also needed proper care by families.

Source- NHRC Release

‘Make silicosis a notifiable disease’


Plight of the Silicosis victims and their family members at Musabani Ghatsila. The potential victims of silicosis are poor migrant workers employed in quarries, mines, gem cutting and other hazardous occupations such as construction sites, a majority of whom are likely to die for lack of specialised treatment. File photo

Plight of the Silicosis victims and their family members at Musabani Ghatsila. The potential victims of silicosis are poor migrant workers employed in quarries, mines, gem cutting and other hazardous occupations such as construction sites, a majority of whom are likely to die for lack of specialised treatment. File photo

Special Report- The  Hindu
Health facilities, adequate compensation must be provided

Taking a serious note of the increasing silicosis-related deaths in the country, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has recommended that silicosis be made a notifiable disease. Once notified, all government and private health facilities will have to report confirmed as well as suspected silicosis cases to the government.

Silicosis is an incurable lung disease caused by inhaling of dust containing free crystalline silica. The potential victims of silicosis are poor migrant workers employed in quarries, mines, gem cutting and other hazardous occupations such as construction sites, a majority of whom are likely to die for lack of specialised treatment.

In a special report — a first of its kind — presented to Parliament, the NHRC has suggested that the government should ensure health facilities to all workers employed at places prone to silica and earmark adequate compensation to the families in case of death.

Talking to reporters here on Friday, P.C. Sharma, NHRC member, said the governments often adopted a strange attitude by saying that those employed in such hazardous jobs were migrant labourers and under the unorganised sector of employment, and hence not much could be done.

“This is a grievous violation of human rights because laws should be equal for organised and unorganised sector workers, keeping in mind the fact that a majority of workers in the country fall in the category of unemployed sector,” he said.

Mr. Sharma admitted that numerous laws were only on paper and poorly implemented. Preventive measures and health care facilities should be the responsibility of the employers, he said.

The Commission has also written to all States to identify the hazardous industries and mapping them for silica generation which results in silicosis. The response from the States were not adequate and they had been asked to send specific answers.

The report to Parliament also suggests regular check-up for the workers employed at places where they are exposed to silica and even linking silica treatment with the TB Control Programme.

It was based on the NHRC recommendation that Rajasthan enhanced compensation in case of silica-related death to Rs.3 lakh. It has also set up a corpus of Rs.25 crore for the purpose as instances of silica-related cases are very high in that State.


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