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Silicosis deaths: Rejecting plea for higher compensation, Gujarat govt distributes 13 Rs 1 lakh cheques to victims' kin

By Our Representative
After a long wait of nine years, the Gujarat government finally began distributing Rs 1 lakh as compensation against the death of agate workers who died of the deadly occupational disease, silicosis. Rejecting the demand to raise the compensation to Rs 3 lakh, the government labour officer (rural) went to Khambhat to distribute cheques to 13 families of those who had died of the disease after working in agate factories.
The People’s Training and Research Centre (PTRC), which has been advocating the cause of the silicosis victims in Gujarat, especially in Khambhat region, has said that, after a long period of discussions, in 2014 the state labour and employment department “passed and published resolution to pay Rs 1 lakh towards relief to the families of Agate workers dying of Silicosis. The resolution is applicable from 2006.”
“One of the beneficiaries Jashiben rushed from Ahmedabad to Khambhat to receive the cheque. She lost her husband Purshottambhai Vankar. Expressing her satisfaction she said that she passed through tremendous difficulties and this amount is a great help to her”, the PTRC said, adding, “She thanked PTRC for working for the welfare of agate workers.”
Speaking at the function organized for the agate worker,s Jagdish Patel, PTRC director, called it a “historical moment in the long history of struggle for social justice for these workers.” However, he added, this is only “the first step and lot more needs to be done.”
There is a strong demand by the silicosis affected workers to pay them relief when they are still alive as they pass through great difficulties. And if states like Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh can do this, why not Gujarat?”, Patel wondered. Even as he said this, government labour officer MK Sayed was extending his wishes to the beneficiaries, the PTRC said.
“For the last more than 50 years, agate workers keep dying of silicosis. Consistent struggle by PTRC has helped recognize the problem by the state”, PTRC said, adding, “In 2007 PTRC initiated weekly clinic to screen the exposed agate workers. The Karamsad Medical College offered free service for diagnosis, while cardiac care center, Khamabhat, provide free X-rays to the workers.”
“This helped test more than 1,200 workers tested for silicosis. Of thise, more than 300 workers have been found tested positive, out of which over 100 have succumbed to their lung injury”, PTRC said, adding, “Now, the state health department has set up infrastructure for diagnosis of silicosis at local level, which needs to be strengthened further.”
Referring to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s talk of development, PTRC said, this was the “right time” for the state government to show up and give “serious thought” to develop and modernize the agate industry.
“The industry need to be helped for its transformation from unorganized to organized form, so that workers can be taken better care of their safety and health at work, as well as their social security”, PTRC said.

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