Friday, December 27, 2013

Silicosis deaths: Gujarat govt indifference forces NGO to write to chief secretary to implement NHRC order


By Our Representative
In a clear case of “indifference”, the Gujarat government has ignored a National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) advice, sent in the form of a “recommendation”, to pay up Rs 5 lakh each to five workers who had died of the deadly silicosis disease about three years ago. The state-based NGO People’s Training and Research Centre (PTRC), Vadodara, in a statement, said the NHRC had acted on its complaint in 2011 and arrived at the conclusion that the Gujarat government had failed to ensure safety standards in stone cutting units, operating in Godhra, Gujarat, where these workers were employed, but as it has refused to act within six weeks, given by the NHRC, making PTRC to write a letter to Gujarat chief secretary Varesh Sinha to enforce NHRC recommendation.
Asking Sinha to “enforce the recommendation and arrange to pay Rs 5 lakh to each of the five families who lost their bread earner due to silicosis, a fatal occupational disease”, the PTRC said, it had filed “the complaint No 1012 in 2011 in which it was said that the victims worked in quartz crushing units in Godhra where they were exposed to fine silica dust for a long period causing Silicosis. During hearing, the Government of Gujarat gave replies with which the NHRC was not impressed. This led the NHRC to issue show-cause notice to the state government. In its final verdict the NHRC noted that the state government has failed in its duty to protect health and life of the workers which led the deaths. Hence state cannot evade its responsibility to pay compensation.”
Pointing out that the NHRC gave six weeks to the state to implement the recommendation, but even nine weeks later the state government has “not taken any steps to make payments to these poor tribal families in remote areas”, in its letter to Sinha, whose copy has been sent to the NHRC secretary-general, the Ministry of Labour and Employment, Government of India, Leader of Opposition of the Gujarat state assembly, member of Parliament from Dahod Prabha Taviad, among others, said, “Five families have passed through and are passing through a tough time all these years. Several victim families in this area, who are victim to silicosis have had to sell out their belongings or lease out or have sold piece of land for small amount of money required for either treatment or day-to-day expenses for living or expenses for last rites of their beloved one.”
Pointing out that the “victims are poorest of poor tribal”, the letter to the chief secretary said, “We strongly believe that the NHRC order should be honoured and victim families should be paid the recommended amount as soon as possible as a mark of state responsibility to protect precious lives of working population. It is the hard work of the workers that has kept our heads high.”
Recalling that “Gujarat is lagging behind in human development index” and one should not “let it fall further by disrespecting the order”, the letter reminded the chief secretary that added, the PTRC, a non-profit voluntary organization working on the issue of occupational health and safety for more than 20 years, “has filed several complaints to the NHRC regarding confirmed cases of death due to silicosis, following interim order by Supreme Court in PIL 110/2006 giving specific directions to the NHRC about this.”
The letter, written by Jagdish Patel, who heads PTRC, said, the NHRC “passed its recommendation on October 22, 2013, pending before it since 2011.” Filed by Patel, it added, The NHRC recommendation gave six weeks time to the Government of Gujarat to enforce the recommendation. The time period is over and the families are waiting for the state government to act.”

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