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Despite NHRC plea, Gujarat govt says there is no need to pay compensation to victims of deadly silicosis

By Our Representative
The Gujarat government has said it has “decided” not to pay Rs 5 lakh each as compensation against five confirmed cases of silicosis death, despite a National Human Right Commission (NHRC) direction to the state officialdom to do so. The workers died five years ago. This has been revealed in reply to a query under the right to information (RTI) to the Peoples Training and Research Center (PTRC), made to chief secretary, Government of Gujarat, Varesh Sinha, on April 7, 2014. The PTRC wished to know whether the state government had made up its mind to pay the amount due to the poor tribal families.
The chief secretary, refusing to directly answer the question, decided to hand over the decision to reply to the state labour and employment department. “In its reply dated April 29, 2014,the state labour and employment department made it clear that the government has decided not to enforce the NHRC recommendation, saying it is not in position to do so”, the PTRC has said, adding, “No reasons have been given. Further, in the reply, the state government has intimated its decision to the NHRC.”
The PTRC filed a complaint before NHRC in 2011 regarding the death of five workers from Dahod district in Gujarat, who had migrated to work in quartz crushing units in Godhra. At Godhra, PTRC said, these workers “were exposed to fine silica dust leading to silicosis, a fatal occupational lung disease.”
“Several workers have succumbed in their youth to the disease”, PTRC said in its statement, adding, “Though the units involved in crushing and polishing of the stone are covered under the employees’ state insurance (ESI) Act, none of them have so far been extended benefits. Survivors of the victims have never received any compensation or relief. As a result, public interest litigation (PIL) was filed in the Supreme Court of India by People's Rights and Social Research Centre (PRASAR) in 2006”.
"In this petition, the Supreme Court passed an interim in May 2009, directing the NHRC to go ahead with confirmed cases of silicosis deaths and order their relief. Following the order, and inspired by it, the PTRC made a plea before the NHRC to ensure payment to the five confirmed cases of death. The NHRC, after a lapse of two years, recommended on October 22, 2013 to the state government to pay Rs 5 lakh to the kin of those who had died. The NHRC sent official communication to the Government of Gujarat in this regard on March 3, 2014 giving six weeks time to enforce the recommendation”, the PTRC said.
Significantly, this was not the only plea to pay compensation. Earlier, in another complaint filed by one Juwan Singh, the NHRC directed the Government of Gujarat to pay Rs 3 lakh to each of the 238 families from Madhya Pradesh against the death of as many persons who in the state. “The Government of Gujarat argued that the workers from Madhya Pradesh may have worked in another state and got exposed to silica dust, hence it should not be held responsible for these deaths. That recommendation too has not been enforced”, PTRC’s Jagdish Patel said.
Patel wonders, “Is it this the much talked about Gujarat model? On one hand it has failed, in the name of good governance, to comply by provisions of the Factories Act by refusing to monitor silica dust and keep a tab on workers’ health. It has not ensured that the owners issue I-cards to the workers, are enrolled under the ESI Act, or are paid minimum wages. On the other, it is refusing to pay the relief amount, as recommended by NHRC.”

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