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10 million miners exposed to silica dust, 50% suffer from deadly silicosis, ministers told

Anand Yagnik speaking at the Gujarat consultation
By Our Representative
A recent seminar in Delhi, held in the presence of two Union ministers, Faggan Singh Kulaste and Ashwini Kumar Choubey, has been told that a whopping 10 million workers working in the mining sector are exposed to silica dust, with 50% of them suffering from silicosis, a deadly incurable lungs disease.
Participants, who included representatives of top civil society groups mines, minerals & People (mm&P) and Samata, doctors, labour unions and silicosis affected workers, referred to radiological investigations conducted by the Indian Council of Medical Research, which found that 56% of mine workers in Rajasthan are affected with silicosis or silica-tuberculosis.
Ashok Shrimali, secretary general, mm&P, said, though some states like Rajasthan, Gujarat and Haryana have come up with a silicosis rehabilitation policy for the affected families, the implementation is skewed.
Administrative bottlenecks bog the process of identification, diagnosis and compensation to the silicosis victims. Workers are told to produce their job cards, certificate of registration with their employers or mine owners, which is impossible to obtain in most cases, Shrimali added.
Kulaste, who is minister of state for steel, admitted that the health of workers is of least concern to the government and the corporates. The major concern is only the profits. Choubey, minister of state for health, on the other hand, confined his focus on how traditional medicines can cure diseases, stating, there is a need to rethink on how to overcome people from the harms of occupational health issues.
The Delhi seminar was a culmination of similar consultations held in Udaipur (Rajasthan), Bhavnagar (Gujarat) and Dahanu (Maharshtra) on the adverse impact of mining on people’s livelihood and health, especially vulnerable sections such as tribals, women and children, and how illegal mining has made things worse.
While district mineral funds for the welfare of workers are collected as cess from those who are involved in the mining industry, only a pittance is used. Thus, in Rajasthan, it was pointed out, Rs 2,249 crore has been collected, but the utilization is "poor". In Gujarat, as against the total collection of Rs 610 crore, only Rs 200 crores has been utilized.
High priority areas like health, drinking water, education, welfare of women and children and disabled, skill development and sanitation are rarely addressed, the seminars in Rajasthan and Gujarat were told.
Salinity is a brutal environmental factors limiting productivity of crops, which are sensitive to high concentrations of salts in the soil
Zinc mining and smelting activities in Rajasthan, it was pointed out, causes stomach cramps, nausea, and vomiting, affects cholesterol balance, diminishes immune system function, and even said to cause infertility.
Hazardous deposits, it was suggested, get mixed with the top soil affecting the cultivation of crops. The contaminated water leads to communicable diseases. Stunting, biological disorders at birth are increasing among the new born in the villages surrounding Jawar mines, it was pointed out.
The seminar in Gujarat focused on the campaign against the UltraTech Cement Ltd, which has been mining limestone in the coastal areas of Mahuva and Talaja in Bhavnagar district impacting more than 1,700 hectares of 13 villages. Villagers and social activists claimed that mining is happening without complying to the environmental norms.
Limestone mining makes the nearby water saline and makes land saline, said Anand Yagnik, senior Gujarat High Court advocate, adding, salinity is one of the most brutal environmental factors limiting the productivity of crops, which are sensitive to high concentrations of salts in the soil, and the area of land affected by it is increasing day by day.
Dr Kanubhai Kalsaria, who has launched the campaign, said, streams and rivers get altered when mines pump excess water from limestone quarries into downstream natural channels. This increases the danger of flooding, and any pollutants or changes in water quality affects the surface water.
As water and rock are removed from mines, the support they give to underwater is gone, creating sinkholes, Kalsaria said, adding, Bhavnagar district is considered the onion capital of India. Mining is taking away the only source of income of the farmers in the region and is having a huge toll on their livelihood.

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