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Silicosis deaths: Gujarat govt failed to "ensure" safety measures in stone cutting units, says NHRC

By Our Representative
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has sharply criticized the Gujarat government for failing to ensure that stone cutting units operating in the state complied by the “standards of safety” and were taking “steps for diagnosis and treatment” of those who suffered from the deadly silicosis disease. Referring to a complaint filed by Jagdish Patel of the People’s Training and Research Centre (PTRC), Vadodara, seeking the NHRC’s intervention in payment of compensation to five workers employed in stone crushing factories in Godhra town, who had died because of silicosis, the NHRC said, “The state cannot escape the liability to compensate the families of the deceased labourers.”
“Recommending” the state government to pay Rs 5 lakh to each of the silicosis workers who had died, the NHRC order said, a proof of the payment should be submitted “within six weeks.” The workers who died of silicosis are Chimanbhai Nathabhai, Kokila Komal Tansing, Mukeshbhai Manjibhai Damor, Fakira Veersing Damor, and Mangubhai Surtanbhai Damor. The NHRC order is dated October 22, 2013, and Patel says, December 17 was the last day for “implementing” the “recommendation”. He adds, as it has not been implemented, it is "another battle which would need to be fought", but believes NHRC has given "enough reason for it."
The NHRC acted on the basis of a complaint it received from Patel on September 26, 2011 in which he had listed the names of the five persons who were employed in stone crushing factories in Godhra and died. The complaint had said, all five were afflicted by silicosis during the course of employment and diagnosed as patients of silicosis by the National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH), Ahmedabad, which had carried out monitoring of the working environment in registered factories in Godhra and had suggested engineering control measures.
Following the complaint, the NHRC statement, which containing its “recommendation”, said, “The suggestion of NIOH was enforced by the Directorate Industrial Safety and Health, Gujarat government.” Thereafter, the NIOH again carried out “monitoring of working environment in these factories and found that the level of respirable dust was within limit.” However, as regards one of the five labourers mentioned in the list by Patel, the NHRC added, the state government submitted that four of them worked in the registered factories in Godhra, but the fifth one, Damor Mangubhai Surtanbhai, did not work in a registered factory, suggesting he could not be compensation.
This led the NHRC to forward a copy of the state government report to Patel for comments. In his response, Patel said that Mangubhai Surtanbhai was “diagnosed as a patient suffering from silicosis by NIOH during the camp held at community health centre (CHC), Zalod, on October 26-27, 2004”, and on being questioned about occupational history, he had indeed said he had worked in one of the registered silica crushing units in Godhra. Patel also pointed out that the report of the state government did not give any information regarding the action taken by ESIC.
Patel simultaneously refuted the claim of the state government that the level of respirable dust was within the limit prescribed by the NIOH. He forwarded an article in which the NIOH stated that, despite efforts, the dust levels in the factories were still much above the limit prescribed by the Indian Factories Act. On October 22, 2012, the NHRC examined th”e report of the state government and Patel’s critique.
The NHRC found that the very fact that these five labourers were diagnosed as suffering from silicosis, negatived the state's claim that the respirable dust in the concerned factories was within the prescribed limit. It observed, that Right to Life was guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution of India. It observed, the life of labourers working in factories was as precious as that of any other citizen. And it was the duty of the state to ensure that the factories where the labourers work maintain appropriate standards of safety prescribed under various laws.
It pointed out, the fact that the five labourers were diagnosed as patient of silicosis indicated that the factories were not maintaining the required standard of safety and the state failed in its duty to enforce maintaining such standards. Therefore, the state could not escape its liability to compensate the families of the deceased labourers. Based on this, it directed the Government of Gujarat under section 18 of the Prevention of Human Rights Act, 1993, requiring it to show cause, as to why monetary relief to the tune of Rs 5 lakh each be not given to the next of kin of the deceased.
In response, joint secretary, labour and employment, Government of Gujarat justified the refusal to pay compensation on December 15, 2012, saying, during inquiry, it could not be ascertained that deceased Mangubhai Sultanbhai had worked in any registered factory, and therefore in his case, the provisions of ESIC were not attracted. As regards the four others, the matter was taken up with the ESIC. In their cases, either the case was not found covered under the ESIC scheme or the case was withdrawn. Therefore no compensation had so far been paid to any of the five workers.
The state government further said that the grant of compensation came under the purview of the government policy and was required to be decided keeping in view other factors involved and attached with each case. On considering the matter, the NHRC found that the state government had given no “specific denial that the five labourers named in the show cause notice were not patients of silicosis”, recommending the compensation be paid.

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