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589 silicosis deaths in 3 Madhya Pradesh districts. Reason: "Distress" tribal migration to Gujarat's quartz units

By Rajiv Shah
Tracking patients suffering from silicosis over the last four years in Madhya Pradesh's Alirajpur, Jhabua and Dhar, a state-based non-government organization (NGO) has said in a new report that a total of 589 people have died in 105 villages of the three districts because of the deadly disease in 2015. The report was finalized in April 2016.
Titled “Destined to Die: Status of Silicosis Patients in 3 Tribal Dominated Districts of Madhya Pradesh”, the report, which is based on what is called action research survey carried out by an NGO network Nai Shuruwat, claims that all these patients caught silicosis while working over 10 years in 35 “listed quartz crushing factories” located in the Kheda, Vadodara and Panchmahal districts of Gujarat.
Done in association with Silicosis Peedit Sangh and Jan Swasthya Abhiyan, the survey, which seeks to give the overall socio-economic status of 1,219 patients on the basis of individual interviews, says that most of them are tribals and were forced to migrate “in search of livelihood because of lack of livelihood option”.
“Around these years, as per data available data, out-migration had reached more than 70% in these districts”, the report says, adding, “Multiple members from each family ended up working in factories which had employed these people without any proper documents and provided them with no registration or identification of having had worked there.”
Insisting that these factories “broke all possible protocols of employee safety standards, exposing their employees to huge amounts of silica dust”, the report says, “The people started falling ill in months and contracted silicosis.” 
Worse, several of the tribal families have had “to sell their land, livestock, and incurred heavy debts in order to pay for the treatment of a disease which is incurable”, with the government failing to provide any health facilities to the those suffering from silicosis, an “incurable disease”.
According to the survey, “A minute 7% of the total affected families got work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) in 2011, 7.6% in 2012, which dwindled down to 3.2% in 2013, 1.2% in 2014 and 0.7% in 2015.”
“This depicts a complete failure on the part of the Madhya Pradesh government to implement the MGNREGA scheme and provide employment to its people within their villages”, the NGO comments, adding, “Due to lack of irrigation facilities, the agriculture here is largely rain-fed, and thus people depend on a single crop. People need to find work for the rest of the year to support their families.”
The survey says, “Only 19.7% families received some kind of standard pensions (widow/old age/disability etc.) for a period of time and now only 10% receives these pensions (the rate of discontinuation is more than 49%).”
Worse, it adds, “Nobody received the Rs 1,500 monthly pension, as mentioned by the Madhya Pradesh government in their reply to the Supreme Court in March 2015.”
The survey finds that while 21.2% of the affected families were granted housing under the Indira Awaas Yojana, only “6% got both installments to build a house”, adding, while 32.9% patients had Deen Dayal Treatment card, just about 4.7% had the ‘silicosis priority’ stamps on their cards, as recommended in the Silicosis Policy of the Madhya Pradesh of 2011.
The survey blames “serious oversight” on the part of the Gujarat government “to allow these unregulated factories to run and continue employing people.” It adds, “Both states (Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh) should be accountable for the continuing loss of lives of poor and marginalized tribal communities.”

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