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Occupational hazards took 186 deaths in Gujarat in 2016: Corporate giants blamed for not protecting workers

Jagdish Patel
By Our RepresentativeA new estimate, arrived at by a Vadodara-based civil rights organization working on occupational health issues in Gujarat, has estimated that as many as 186 persons have died in 2016 alone in the state because of various occupational hazard diseases. Sourced on vernacular media of South Gujarat, the organization, People’s Training and Research Centre (PTRC), believes that the actual numbers should be “much higher”, as the news items published in the dailies are "based on police complaints."
In a profile of the deaths, PTRC has found that big industries and industrial estates in Gujarat’s chemical hubs account for many of them. The incidents profiled include 1 3 deaths which took place in units runs by top industrial houses -- Adani, Nirma and Reliance.
Thus, on April 28, 2016, seven workers died in the Adani-owned power plant in Mundra, Kutch district, died as a result of explosion in the pipeline leading to the flash tank steam because of obstruction caused by an iron part. It led to hot water at 144 degrees falling on workers, all of whom were migrants from Jharkhand.
Then, four workers in Nirma’s plant on December 10, 2016 near Bhavnagar died because of a blast next to the tank, under which they were working. And two workers died on November 25, 2016, at Jamnagar’s Reliance Industries Ltd during maintenance shutdown. Other spots where incidents took place are Bharuch, Vadodara, Anand, Surat, and Himatnagar.
Bringing this to light on April 28, the International Workers Memorial Day, Jagdish Patel of PTRC, who addressed mediapersons in Ahmedabad, said, “We mourn for the workers who have die during the year in accidents at work as well as occupational diseases, even as pledging to fight for the rights  of those who are have survived.”
Patel said, "The rate of fatal accidents at work in India is 12.35 per 100,000, while rate of fatal accidents at work in India is 15.38 per 100,000 workers, considering 13 lakh workers and average 200 fatally per year."
He added, Considering that in 2013 and 2014, as many as 229 and 259 workers, respectively, died in Gujarat, the rate would still go up. Surat alone reported 35 and 48 fatalities in years 2013 and 2014 respectively. These are highest among all other districts of Gujarat."
Especially referring to the occupational hazard caused by asbestos against the backdrop of the Eighth Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Stockholm Convention, Geneva, Switzerland from April 24 to May 5, 2017, Patel said, India is opposing ban on the commodity, which it imports.
Patel said, “Asbestos related diseases are on the not just across India butt also in Gujarat. In Ahmedabad during 2009-2012, 21 cases of mesothelioma were reported at Gujarat Cancer Research Institute, Ahmedabad, while in 2013, in a span of one year, 23 cases of mesothelioma were diagnosed.”
He added, “Mesothelioma is one of the rare cancers caused by exposure to asbestos fibre. Occupational Safety and Health Association (OSHA), an NGO based in Gujarat, has identified four cases of mesothelioma of which two were employed by an asbestos factory.”
Banned in 55 countries, but not in India, Patel said, “Even Nepal banned asbestos in 2014, while Sri Lanka has declared to ban import of asbestos roof sheets from 2018.India does not mine asbestos. It depends on import from Russia, Kazakhstan and Brazil. Canada was the biggest exporter of asbestos to India but Canada too has banned asbestos export.”
“India is one of world’s largest importers of asbestos. In 2011-12, it has imported over 378,122 tons, 396,493 tons in 2014-15 and by 2017 it is expected to rise by 605,000 tons with 9% growth”, he said.
“In a large number of cases”, regretted Patel, “Those die because of occupational diseases never care to register any complaint with the police. More often than not, such deaths are registered as having happened due to accidents”
Quoting from a 2009 Government of India policy on occupational health, Patel said, “It is the responsibility of the employers to ensure safety and health of the workers who work in factory premises. However, this is seldom done.”
He regretted, "National Human Rights Commission and Supreme Court recommendations for safety at work places have also not been implemented", adding, “There is no effort to rehabilitate those who suffer because of occupational hazard.”

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