Skip to main content

West Bengal silicosis policy a welcome step but there are a few aberrations


By Jagdish Patel*
Health and Family Welfare department, Government of West Bengal declared policy for relief, rehabilitation and treatment of silicosis victims on February 25, 2022 is a welcome step by the State government to give justice to the silicosis victims who were not paid an attention so far.
The policy offers Rs 2 lakh to the silicosis up on diagnosis of silicosis and more 2 lakh on the death of the identified silicosis patient. More over it also offers up to Rs 4,000 per month, depending up on the category A, B or C as per International Labour Organization (ILO) classification to the patient so that one can look after the treatment expenses as well as cover livelihood expenses. Rs 2,000 is offered for performing last rites of the silicosis patients.
After the patient dies family pension of Rs 3,500 will be available to the widow till her life. It also offers Rs 4,000 to Rs 10,000 for the education of the children of the silicosis patients and up to Rs 25,000 for the education and skill development up to two unmarried daughters. It also offers up to Rs 25,000 assistance for marriage of daughter till two daughters.
There is no bar for claiming compensation under ESI Act or Employees Compensation Act. The good part is, non-worker, if diagnosed with silicosis is also eligible to claim the benefit under this policy.
For diagnosis of silicosis it depends up on X-ray only may be termed as practical but not very progressive. More and more medical professionals depend up on CT scan. Specifically for small opacities, X-ray is not very useful. We do not have any data on Indian condition on proportion of small opacities among newly diagnosed cases of silicosis.
In Indian public health care system availability of good quality of X-ray machines, trained X-ray technicians and radiologist cannot be assured; talking of CT scan would be unachievable goal.
Under the policy, the concerned district magistrate shall constitute a Silicosis Diagnosis Board in each affected district. However, it is not clear who will decide on “affected district” and what will be the criterion to declare a district to be silicosis affected.
Ideally, one known case of silicosis should be sufficient to declare the district to be silicosis affected. The Board will consist of one chest specialist or representative of CMOH, one radiologist or representative of CMOH, one medical officer of directorate of factories and one concerned joint labour commissioner. Presence of joint commissioner in medical board will complicate matters. In purely medical matters, a non-medico has no role to play.
Similarly, the diagnosis board also does not require occupational health physician or medical graduate with AIFH or expertise and experience in diagnosis of occupational diseases Or Chest and TB experts.
In India we have not developed B reader expertise for radiologists to read pneumoconiosis X-rays. Nowhere the policy talks of comparing the X-rays with the standard ILO X-ray plates, is again a welcome move. As I have understood these standard X-ray plates are useful for epidemiological studies and not useful for diagnosis of individual patient.
The department has set up a monitoring committee of 6 members for reviewing implementation of the policy. The members are drawn from the Pollution Control Board, Labour Commissioner, Director of Factories and two NGO representatives, apart from the Department of Health and Family Welfare. Now, who 2 NGOs will be is not spoken.
It is the usual experience that the NGOs which are established and operated by a leader of ruling party is given place in such committees but the NGOs working on the subject but critical of the Government do not find any place in such committees.
Responsibility of all the functions pertaining to implementation of welfare measures and execution of the policy is assigned to the Labour Department and not the Social Welfare Department. Records will be maintained by the Directorate of Factories.
Preliminary investigation into suspected cases will be done by the Directorate of Factories. They will also develop and impart training course for health workers. Why ministry of health is not assigned this responsibility is a question.
WB Pollution Control Board will plan programme for control of environmental pollution and not workplace environment. Matter of concern though is, there is no mention of dust levels required to be maintained at workplace to prevent silicosis and monitoring the levels at periodic interval. After Bhopal the ILO helped the State Labour departments set it up.
State government has created a corpus find of Rs 10 crore for this scheme. This fund will be utilized for workers who are certified having silicosis by the Silicosis Diagnosis Board. Interestingly this find will be used for Construction workers also for whom there is a separate fund available.
The Construction Workers Welfare Board has a scheme to compensate Silicosis patients from that fund. The policy makes it clear that the The Construction Workers Welfare Board do not need to contribute to this Silicosis prevention and control fund but the silicosis affected construction workers shall also avail the benefits provided in this policy. There is no bar on double benefits.
Benefits will be available to any worker working in the factories, establishment, construction site and certified by the Board. It means that the workers may be domicile of W. Bengal or not shall be able to claim the benefits. It has come to our notice that the workers from Bangladesh illegally migrate to India. Many of them find work in quarries in West Bengal where they get exposed to Silica and get silicosis. Once sick, they return back to their native where they get diagnosed and later die in penury.
Will they be able to claim benefits, I wonder.
The policy provides for conducting preliminary investigation by the Medical Officer of the Directorate of Factories and not any expert from Health department. Workers from manufacturing, construction or service sector may get exposed to silica where Factory Act is not applicable.
Why then the responsibility of investigation should fall on the shoulders of only a Medical Officer of the Directorate of Factories? How many posts of Medical Officers have been sanctioned and how many of them are vacant in the Directorate of Factories? It is a common experience that Directorate of Factories do not have adequate numbers of medical officers appointed.
The policy further provides that the medical officer shall prepare report with recommendations to place before the Diagnosis Board! Why a worker cannot walk oneself to get screened before the Board? It is good to note that the expenditure for investigation etc. shall be taken care of by the Board.

Director, People’s Training and Research Centre, Vadodara

Comments

TRENDING

'Modi govt's assault on dissent': Foreign funds of top finance NGO blocked

By Rajiv Shah  In a surprise move, the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, has cancelled the foreign funding license of the well-known advocacy group, Centre for Financial Accountability (CFA), known for critically examining India's finance and banking sectors from human rights and environmental angle.

Misleading ads 'manipulate, seduce, lure' to market unhealthy harmful food

By Our Representative  The Nutrition Advocacy in Public Interest (NAPI) in its new report “50 Shades of Food Advertising” has sought to expose how seductive, luring, manipulative or deceptive these advertisements can be. Consequences of such advertising are increased intake of unhealthy food products that is associated with obesity and diabetes, it says. 

A Hindu alternative to Valentine's Day? 'Shiv-Parvati was first love marriage in Universe'

By Rajiv Shah*   The other day, I was searching on Google a quote on Maha Shivratri which I wanted to send to someone, a confirmed Shiv Bhakt, quite close to me -- with an underlying message to act positively instead of being negative. On top of the search, I chanced upon an article in, imagine!, a Nashik Corporation site which offered me something very unusual. 

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

'Failure of governance': India, China account for 54% pollution-related deaths globally

By Vikas Parsaram Meshram*   A recent report jointly prepared by UNICEF and the independent research organization Health Effects Institute has been released, and the statistics within it are alarming. It states that in 2021, air pollution caused the deaths of 2.1 million Indians, including 169,000 children who hadn't yet fully experienced life. These figures are indeed distressing and raise questions about why there hasn't been more serious effort in this direction, putting policymakers to shame. 

August 9 to be observed as Corporates Quit India day: Top farmers' group

By Our Representative A recent general body meeting of the Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM), the top farmers' organisation, stated hat "there is no need for any illusion of change in the pro-corporate policies of the BJP-NDA government" following the recent elections in which BJP failed to achieve even simple majority. It insisted,  Prime Minister Narendra Modi "is hell bent" to continue 'business as usual' policies.

Over 3.8 billion animals at risk: India on crossroad in animal welfare practices

By Rupali Soni*  In a collaborative effort, the India Animal Fund and Dasra have unveiled their report , "Our Shared Future | Securing Animal Welfare, Human Wellbeing, and Sustainability in India." This landscape report provides a thorough overview of animal welfare and underscores its indispensable role within India's socio-economic and ecological frameworks. It also illustrates how animal welfare is intricately intertwined with public health, labor welfare, and climate resilience.

Belgian report alleges MNC Etex responsible for asbestos pollution in Madhya Pradesh town Kymore: COP's Geneva meet

By Our Representative A comprehensive Belgian report has held MNC Etex , into construction business and one of the richest, responsible for asbestos pollution in Kymore, an industrial town in in Katni district of Madhya Pradesh. The report provides evidence from the ground on how Kymore’s dust even today is “annoying… it creeps into your clothes, you have to cough it”, saying “It can be deadly.”

Maharashtra govt's proposed bill may be used against 'dissenting' journalists, writers, filmmakers, artists

Counterview Desk  The People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), Maharashtra, strongly objecting to what it calls “repressive and unconstitutional” Maharashtra Special Public Security Bill 2024, has demanded the proposed law be scrapped in its entirety. In its Statement of Objects and Reasons for the Bill, PUCL noted,  the broad and non-descript label of ‘urban naxal’ has been used, which is actually a “common slur used for any citizen who expresses their opposition to state policy or is not aligned with right-wing majoritarian views."