In what is being interpreted as a clear case of insensitivity, the Gujarat government has refused to entertain application of five widows of the deadly silicosis disease because they failed to apply for Rs 1 lakh compensation within three months' time they are said to have been offered to produce necessary documents as proof.
Well-known health rights activist from Vadodara, Jagdish Patel, taking cognisance of the state government's rejection, has said, this is especially appalling, as, under a Supreme Court order, the state government is obliged to pay Rs 3 lakh compensation to Madhya Pradesh's migrant workers who die of silicosis while working Gujarat factories.
“Why are our own workers from Gujarat being paid just Rs 1 lakh?”, Patel, who has demanded that the compensation for silicosis victims should be increased to Rs 4 lakh in Gujarat, has wondered.
In a letter, Patel has asked the state labour and employment minister to show “more compassionate” and not “outrightly reject” the applications like this only because the kin could not produce proof that those who died indeed suffered from silicosis.
Patel, who heads People's Research and Training Centre (PTRC), said that the government should “understand” the victims come from poor families. “Their educational level is low, and they face considerable difficulty in obtaining necessary documents of proof”, he said.
Objecting to the rejection of application only because the kin were unable to send the pleas within the stipulated time frame, Patel said, “Such rejections only undermine the government scheme of providing a helping hand to the victims.”
The five persons, whose widows were told that they could not be offered compensation because of late application, belong to different villages of Khambhat taluka of Central Gujarat.
These are Sheikh Jakirhusain Kadarbhai of Bhoibari village, Sultanmiyan Abbasmiyan Malek of Tiba village, Parsottam Mithabhai Mithabhai Parmar of Shakarpur village, Sikandarsha Karimsha Fakir of Haryan village, and Buddhilal Punjabhai Gohil of Shakarpur village.
Patel said, “There is a long-standing tradition in the Khambhat region which bars widows to come out their residence for for several weeks after the death of their husband. Among Muslims, they are not allowed to move out of the house for three months.”
Pointing out that there is a need to “understand this factor while rejecting the application”, Patel said, even social activists belonging to his NGO, PTRC, are “unable to directly approach the widows during this period, which makes things even more difficult to make application on time.”
He added, “If the government so desires, it could charge a late fee. Even the courts do this, so what is the Gujarat government shy of this? Compensation must be provided in the name of natural justice.”
Late application is not the only reason why applications for compensation are being rejected. A National Human Rights Commission team, which took testimony of next of kin of about several workers who died due to the deadly disease, has reported (click HERE) that in Anand district out of 59 applications which were processed for compensation, only in 20 were accepted.
The application of 39 for financial assistance was “rejected”, five because of “incomplete record where names of candidates were not included” and the rest “on the ground of non-silicosis lung disease”.