Sunday, March 15, 2015

Gujarat labour court orders cent per cent payment of compensation to deadly silicosis victims

Kamila Fata Kamol, one of the applicants
By Our Representative
In a judgment of considerable significance for those suffering from the deadly occupational disease, silicosis, in Gujarat, the labour court in Vadodara has asked the Employees’ State Insurance Corporation (ESIC) -- a Government of India undertaking “tailored” to provide health-related protection to workers -- to pay up compensation to nine surviving victims who were diagnosed of the disease in 2007.
A year after they were diagnosed of the disease while working in agate units in Godhra district of Gujarat, Vadodara-based People’s Training and Research Centre (PTRC) helped victims of silicosis file a petition against ESIC for compensation (“disablement benefit” in legal terms).
As many as 15 persons agreed. Of these 15, for whom the petition was filed with the help of the NGO, six died before the judgment was delivered. Nine of them are now entitled to get the "disability benefit".
A PTRC note said, “For the rest of nine cases, the labour court passed order in their favour ordering ESIC to pay benefit to them starting with 2007.” Pointing out that the case was “built from scratch, as the victims did not know for themselves whether they were insured under the ESIC, under the ESI Act, as they did not have any evidence of employment”, PTRC said, “We filed several RTI applications to recover documentary evidence.”
Once the documentary evidence was obtained, the note said, the question arose whether the silicosis victims were “qualified”. It said, “Most workers did not have any evidence of working for minimum six months as required by law for getting compensation. But then we dug out an old resolution form ESIC Manual of 1992 that workers suffering from silicosis do not need to fulfill that condition.”
Khumsing Fata Kamol
Giving details of the judgment, PTRC said, “The ESIC lawyer argued that, as per legal provisions, disability has to be decided by the special medical board set up by the ESIC. The court did not accept the argument quoting a Gujarat High Court order which said disability benefit for silicosis patient should be cent per cent.”
Diagnosis was done by the National Institute for Occupational Health (NIOH), Ahmedabad, in all these cases, said PTRC, adding, the court also ordered ESIC to pay 7 per cent interest and Rs 1000 towards cost.
PTRC director Jagdish Patel told Counterview that ESIC will now have to “calculation on the amount to be paid”. He added, “Disability benefit is based on the wages being paid to workers. It is a little complicated process. It will be of interest to see whether the ESIC pays the amount after calculating it or decides to challenge the order.”
PTRC note said, “Silicosis in tens of quartz stone polishing factories in Godhra district has become a major problem. The Gujarat government itself has admitted that before the National Human Rights Commission that as many as 238 workers from Madhya Pradesh had died of silicosis in these factories.” It added, while there is evidence that large numbers die of silicosis in Gujarat’s stone crushing factories, no one gets compensation.
PTRC complained, “Despite efforts to provide identity cards to those working in the factories in stone crushing factories of Godhra district, no effort was made in this direction. Finally, as many as 15 workers agreed with a plea to file a petition with the labour court for compensation.”
The nine persons who survived and should get compensation are – Khumsing Fata Kamol, Kamila Fata Kamol, Magan Kheta Kamol, Lalsing Sadia, Veerising Joti, Jashwant Manji, Menaben Nandubhai, Soka Harji, and Subhash Soka.

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