Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Gujarat govt "solution" for workers suffering from deadly silicosis: Go in for alternative job sources

Khambhat's Fatesinh, a silicosis victim
By Our Representative
Will the Gujarat government implement its word to pay compensation of paltry Rs 1 lakh against those who died because of the deadly occupational disease silicosis starting with 2007? While the amount itself is very small, in a recent decision, it decided to pay up the relatives of those who died while working in agate stone-cutting factories, mainly in Khambhat, with effect from January 2014. “We have been assured that the matter will be sorted out”, said Jagdish Patel of the People’s Training and Research Centre (PTRC), which works among silicosis workers. “However, it must await ministerial nod”, he added.
Patel, who met senior officials of the Gujarat government in Gandhinagar to sort out issues related with the occupational disease, said, “The view is also strong in the Gujarat government that instead of stressing too much on the welfare of those working in factories which cause silicosis, there should be an effort to move out workers in alternative sources of employment. During out meeting, a senior official kept asking us why these people are continuing to cling on to this work when they know the dangers.” So far six persons have reported died due to silicosis this year, and 140 are fatally suffering.
“While the Gujarat government officials kept saying that they would assure all help to those wanting to come out of the occupation, we told them that, things are not as easy as they seem to suggest. There are technical solutions in stone cutting by adopting higher levels of technology. This wouldn’t cause silicosis”, Patel, who was accompanied by other social workers, told Counterview, adding, “We also explained to him that had alternative and viable employment possibilities existed, the workers would long have left agate factories. But this has not happened.”
In fact, Patel said, “We explained to Gujarat officials that if Madhya Pradesh could come up with a law to protect its silicosis workers working in slate pencil industry in Mandsaur, why couldn’t Gujarat do the same. At Mandsaur, like Khambhat, a large number of workers used to die from silicosis. To solve the problem, the Madhya Pradesh government came up with a state law for the welfare of slate pencil workers. We think it is good example that could be replicated in Gujarat. Quite some time back we handed over copy of the law to Gandhinagar babus as well as district collector Anand, under whom Khambhat area falls, but nothing happened.”
Patel said, “I visited Mandsaur some time back with few workers from Khambhat, and we were really impressed though there was scope for improvement.” He said, under the aw, the Madhya Pradesh government has set up a welfare board, and created fund to help out those suffering from silicosis, he said, the board is run by collecting a cess at the rate of Rs.4 per 1000 slate pencils from the manufacturer. The amount goes into the welfare of the workers suffering from silicosis, and lots of lives have been saved because of this.
A report prepared on the basis of Patel’s visit to Mandsaur said, “The board has its monitoring centers (chowky) in the manufacturing areas. Once a worker has been diagnosed as suffering from silicosis or silico-TB by the local medical board, headed by the civil surgeon in the city, it issues a certificate for positive patients. Once the patient submits the certificate issued to him with the medical board, the welfare board demands few more documents like certificate by the employer to the effect that the patient was employed by him and copy of the attendance register, voter card etc.”
The report added, “Once satisfied, the welfare board registers the patient. The registered patient is entitled for 7 different benefits extended by the welfare board, including Rs700 per month towards treatment and medical care. The widows of silicosis victims are entitled for Rs 450 per month and Rs.500 per child. Rs.11,000 is paid on death of silicosis patient. Moreover they are entitled for assistance of Rs 5000 in case of marriage of two daughters and assistance for education of their children from Rs 650 to Rs 1,850.”

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