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Gujarat's Khambhat region is silicosis epidemic hit, pay an extra Rs 3 lakh to victims: NHRC to state govt

By Our Representative
In a major victory for the Vadodara-based advocacy group, People's Training and Research Centre (PTRC), the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has observed that the records presented to it regarding agate industry suggest the Gujarat government has "accepted that there has been epidemic menace of silicosis in the Khambhat region... and the adjoining regions."
Agreeing with the PTRC survey, based on medical examination of agate workers, that 157 out of 415 persons, who had caught silicosis, died because of the fatal disease, NHRC said in its order to the Gujarat chief secretary, the "menace" had been traced in 1961, and was "confirmed" by the National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH) in 1980, 2002 and 2010.
Pointing out that the state government has paid Rs 1 lakh to the next of kin (NOK) of 65 persons who died because silicosis, which is also a recognition of the epidemic nature of the disease, NHRC said, the amount is too meagre, and another Rs 3 lakh should be paid as compensation -- Rs 1 lakh in cash and Rs 2 lakh as fixed deposit.
NHRC said, while the complainant, Jagdish Patel of PTRC, has contended that the menace of silicosis "is frequent in Jambusar taluka of Bharuch district of Gujarat", it regretted, "The state government has neither conducted any survey nor come out with any action taken report on the menace, in the area." Asking the state government to "revise its schemes for monetary relief to agate workers", it asked the state government to be "human rights sensitive."
Jagdish Patel
Providing a five-point action plan to be implemented in the agate factories by applying on them "provisions in Factories Act" to take care of "health and safety measures for poor labourers", NHRC lamented, "The state government has not made any rehabilitation scheme for the persons who are suffering from silicosis and NOK of the persons who died of silicosis".
Noting that the the state government has "failed to register registerable units under the Factories Act and has not taken any steps as per recommendation of the NHRC team to formulate a comprehensive policy to regulate functioning of agate units", NHRC said, it has also failed to "address problems of agate workers in the light of the Supreme Court Judgement in the matter of PM Patel & Sons Vs Union of India (1986)."
"The state government instead of implementing the directions of the Supreme Court has argued that they do not want to implement/introduce provident fund (PF) in agate industries", NHRC said, adding, "Agate units are factories under the notification of state government dated November 29, 2008" and are covered under Section 85 of Factories Act."
Arguing that labour laws should apply, NHRC said, other laws which should apply on them include the Minimum Wages Act, Payment of Wages Act, Equal Remuneration Act, Bonus Act, Employees State Insurance Act (ESI) Act etc., adding, there should also be "regulation of hours of remuneration and health and safety measures as provided in the Factories Act."
Asking the state government should "stop work of agate cutting and polishing in residential areas completely, in the line of slate industry in Mandsaur, Madhya Pradesh, NHRC said, a "welfare board for the welfare of agate workers" should be set up by "levying cess on production, sale and export of agate", as done by the Madhya Pradesh government with regard to the slate industries in Mandsaur.
Other recommendations include "prohibition of electricity connection in residential areas for commercial purposes, especially for agate polishing", making it mandatory for the agate industry to get environmental clearance before starting work, to b "monitored on a continuous basis by the State Pollution Control Board, after they commence manufacturing", and "fixation of piece rates by the state for agate workers which at present are decided arbitrarily by the traders".

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