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Gujarat govt's anti-pollution watchdog GPCB doesn't consider agate industry hazardous, has no data: NHRC

By Rajiv Shah
In a shocking revelation, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has found that the Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB), the state government’s powerful anti-pollution watchdog, does not consider agate industry hazardous . It regrets, “As such, GPCB is not having any data regarding omission of silica dust in agate work.”
The report –based on an NHRC team’s spot inquiry last year, acting five years after a complaint filed by Jagdish Patel, a well-known social activist working among agate workers for several decades – says, “No pollution check has been carried out by the GPCB in the premises of agate factories/units.”
The team, which took along with it staff of the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) to examine the extent of pollution caused by the agate industry in Khambhat taluka of Anand district, says that during a visit to one of the agate registered units, “there was an attempt to wash rooms and roofs where drums had been kept for crushing the agates.”
“Even after washing the rooms including roofs etc., there was enough silica dust present in those rooms. NHRC team themselves witnessed lot of dust despite the cleanings done”, the report, a copy of which is with Counterview, says.
The report, citing the MPCB staff, said the latter conducted air pollution level at one of the factory premises during heavy rain, yet it was found that the Respirable Suspended Particulate Matter (RSPM) levels in the agate units were “almost five times higher than the permissible limit.”
The report says, in official records, provided by the assistant labour commissioner, there are total 13 registered agate units in Khambhat, which were not functioning on government record, and three were functioning. Of the three, license one nit had expired and had not been renewed.
Jagdish Patel
However, it says, “There are many unauthorized agate units, including home-based agate units in Khambhat. There are many home based agate units functioning in residential areas.”
It insists, "Contrary to the claim of the deputy secretary, Government of Gujarat, labour and employment department that no agate unit is situated surrounding the residences the workers, these home based agate units are located in populous areas, which poses health hazard to nearby residents as well as workers themselves.”
The report says, the official data made available to the NHRC team by the district tuberculosis (TB) officer “confirmed” only 10 silicosis death and 38 silicosis TB death cases reported during the last 10 years. It underlines, “However, data of the complainant (Jagdish Patel) reveals that there are 124 deaths due to silicosis and 133 patients suffering from silicosis since 2007.”
Pointing towards lack of qualified doctors in government hospitals, the report says, “Out of the total sanctioned posts of 9 MBBS medical Officers, two posts were vacant”; and out of the total sanctioned posts of nine Ayush (ayurvedic, yunani and other alternative medical systems) medical officers, four posts were vacant.”
The report says, while the district administration of Anand did organize “special medical camps to treat the patients of silicosis disease in 2013-14”, yet “there is no special drive to curb the free respirable silica particles at the manufacturing sites.”
The report, which runs into 48 pages, regrets, though 20 next of kin (NoK) were given Rs 1 lakh each as financial assistance for their death due to silicosis, “No grant of compensation has been given to the patients of silicosis/silico TB disease.”
Worse, the report says, “There is no government scheme for rehabilitation of affected agate workers due to silicosis or their family members. Due to silicosis deaths in a family, living condition of people are miserable. The NoK of the deceased and silicosis patient are illiterate, they are not capable of filling papers for getting any government benefits.”

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