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Silicosis deaths: Gujarat govt agrees to pay compensation starting with 2006, but refuses to raise amount

By Our Representative
Bowing to the pressure from voluntary agencies fighting for the cause of the deadly occupational disease, silicosis, mainly found among agate workers of Khambhat in Central Gujarat, the Gujarat government has finally agreed to pay up compensation to the family members of those who died because of it with effect from January 1, 2006. The decision sets aside the earlier announcement, made through a government resolution (GR) of January 2014, which said the compensation would be paid to the fatal victims of silicosis death with effect from January 1, 2014. However, the GR issued does not change the amount – Rs 1 lakh – despite representations.
In a statement, while welcoming the government decision, the People’s Training and Research Institute (PTRC), which works among agate workers of Khambhat, said, “The new decision followed a meeting with the state labour secretary in Sachivalaya in Gandhinagar, in which representatives of agate workers participated.” During the meeting, the government official had argued on the need to shift the agate workers to newer occupations. However, PTRC’s Jagdish Patel argued that this is “not easy as it seems”, because there are few alternative sources of livelihood in Khambhat.
The year 2014 has proved to be the deadliest for silicosis victims. In September 2014, two persons, Kanti Mulji Parmar and Prakash Khushal Parmar, died because of the occupational disease, following long illnesses. With this, the total number of deaths in Gujarat this year reached 19, highest in a single year. Jagdish Patel, who has been supporting agate workers’ plight in Khambhat for more than a decade, said, “Both had many things in common. They stayed in same village, in same area. They were from same caste, Dalit vankar. Both were late thirties. They remained unmarried for the similar reasons -- their elder brothers had also died of silicosis.Both were agate polishers. Both lost their parents and brothers who also died because of silicosis. And, both died in September 2014.”
Kanti Mulji Parmar, 19th victim of silicosis in 2014
The PTRC statement said, “Even a state like Rajasthan pays Rs 1 lakh as compensation to immediately after silicosis is diagnosed, and Rs 2 lakh against death. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has recommended that death compensation should be between Rs 2 and 5 lakh. Gujarat, which claims to be a wealthy state, should have shown the way on how it protects its citizens through welfare scheme, particularly at a time when the Prime Minister of India is from the state. However, unfortunately, the new GR keeps the compensation at Rs 1 lakh.”
Regretting that silicosis workers are not covered by any social protection scheme, the PTRC said, “Treating the silicosis victim, once the disease is diagnosed, remains a major issue. While the government has declared that it would provide free healthcare to the victims, there are not enough physicians in government-owned community health centres (CHCs) who can treat the disease. Besides, there aren’t enough medicines available in CHCs. Then, once the disease grips a person, it becomes difficult for the family members to eke a living, about which nothing has been thought.”
“It is extremely important that the government come up with some viable job scheme for and additional help to family members of the person in the grip of disease”, the statement said, indicating, it was not as easy it would seem on the surface for ensuring compensation with effect from January 1, 2006 either. “The agate workers are falling victims of the disease for the last four decades. However, it is only after the PTRC started working among them in Khambhat and lined up with a hospital in Karamsad and a cardiac care centre to diagnose the disease that things became clearer, and we demanded that compensation be paid starting with 2006.”

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