Gujarat silicosis deaths: Compensation pleas pending with since 2010, NHRC "turns down" plea at public hearing

Inside a silicosis unit in Khambhat, Gujarat
By Our Representative
In a strange paradox, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) did not have time to listen to a foremost representative of victims of silicosis, a fatal occupational disease prevalent in Central Gujarat, Jagdish Patel of the Peoples Training & Research Centre (PTRC), at the public hearing, held on April 27-28, at the high profile Karai Gujarat Police Academy, situated 20 kilometres off Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar.
Patel told Counterview in an email message, PTRC was intimated over phone on April 26, 2018 at 6.10 pm to remain present at the hearing by 11 am on April 27. "When I reached at 11 am, I was informed that the hearing on silicosis is over. I was shocked. When I looked at the schedule displayed there, timing for silicosis hearing was between 9.30 am to 10.30 am!"
Later, he said, he had to be "satisfied" with a separate meeting with NGOs at 11.30 am, chaired by NHRC chairman Justice HL Dattu. "I made representation and submitted my written representation", he said. Significantly, several other representatives too complained as to how they were short-shrifted. Dinesh Bhambharia, representing families of Patidars who had died in police firing in Palanpur in 2016, was not allowed to make representation at the public hearing.
HL Dattu
What especially shocked those who had reached the Police Academy was, while Dattu said he was "satisfied" with the state government's response to human rights violations, he was unaware of the state’s actions in the 2012 Thangadh police firing incident, where three Dalit youths were killed or the well-known Una Dalit flogging incident of 2016. “I am hearing of the Thangadh firing incident for the first time,” Dattu has been quoted as saying.
A scribe present at the NHRC hearing told Counterview, "The very presence of top cops at the Police Academy made the public hearing unfriendly for those who had come to represent. Only 27 representations were made by victims, even as policemen and officials were conspicuous with their presence. There was an atmosphere of fear, especially because of the spot chosen for the hearing, something NHRC officials refused to recognize."
In his written representation, Patel said, PTRC had filed 12 complaints regarding 126 confirmed deaths of silicosis deaths among agate workers -- nine about 105 deaths in Khambhat, one about four deaths in Bharuch and two involving 17 deaths in Dahod. This apart, one complaint was made involving 87 positive cases of silicosis among quartz crushing workers of Chhotaudepur district.
The representation said, as against the present compensation for silicosis death, Rs 1 lakh, NHRC asked the Gujarat government to pay Rs 5 lakh to five families of silicosis victims. Later, the recommendation was amended to Rs 4 lakh. "However, the state government has not respected the recommendation. We petitioned before NHRC on May 20, 2017 to take up the matter before the Supreme Court", Patel said.
Jagdish Patel
To get a better view of the condition of agate workers of Khambhat, an NHRC team made a spot inquiry in June 2015, spending six days, meeting all the stake holders before preparing its report. "The recommendations, if implemented in letter and spirit, can pave the way for more just development of agate industry. We represented before the Gujarat chief secretary twice requesting to enforce the recommendations. Our communication has not even been acknowledged."
Suggesting indifference on the part of NHRC, Patel said, complaints regarding silicosis deaths in Dahod and Bharuch districts are pending before it since 2010. Also pending since 2011 are complaints regarding 87 "positive cases" of silicosis Vadodara district. "We humbly request NHRC to pass recommendations in these complaints", he said.
According to Patel, "States like Rajasthan, Jharkhand, West Bengal and Madhya Pradesh have been paying some relief amount to the workers who are living with silicosis but Gujarat is not paying any amount. One has to wait to die to get relief paid. Those who suffer from silicosis cannot work and earn their bread." He added, "Those who suffer from silicosis are not even considered disabled and do not enjoy any benefits for differently able."
Insisting that there is a need to detect silicosis in several other industries, too, Patel said, Gujarat is a highly industrialized state. It is hub of glass and ceramic industry. There are have several cement plants, mines of manganese, silica, coal, stone and other minerals and mineral processing and quartz crushing units, and a large numbers of foundries where silica is used.
Pointing out that only one foundry in Junagadh district has reports of silicosis death, Patel said, "We have over 1.5 million workers engaged in construction industry who are also exposed to silica. "Still, we have no reports of silicosis from any of these industries. Most such workers are wrongly diagnosed as TB which is very safe and convenient for all concerned", he added.

Comments

Anonymous said…
Very serious ....Some 30 years back Educational Tv Programmes on silicosis deaths were created to creat awareness....NIOH gave full support. Dr.Parikh and Dr.Bhatnagar were very much involved and dedicated...
Uma Sheth said…
Looks like NHRC is on its way to saffronisation