Hemavathi Gaunder’s husband, S.R. Gaunder, was employed as a labourer for a reputed power company in Ahmedabad. Three years ago, the Occupational Health Centre in Mumbai diagnosed him with cancer caused by excessive exposure to asbestos.
”My husband died leaving me with no support,” says Hemavathi sadly. She now earns money by cooking and selling food.
Hemavathi received no compensation. “We can’t do anything since her husband was a migrant from Tamil Nadu,” says Raghunath Manwar, president of the Occupational Health Association, Ahmedabad. “There are many migrant workers like him who have died due to exposure to asbestos.”
Manwar used to work in the same power plant. He says the appalling work conditions in the plant impaired his hearing. The company sacked him when he testified before a committee examining hazards that workers were exposed to in the plant. Manwar is now an Ashoka Fellow and a leader of the Occupational Health Association.
“Workers in Gujarat’s 23 government-owned thermal power plants suffer from asbestosis apart from occupational diseases like pneumoconiosis, silicosis, heart disease, lung disease, kidney malfunction, reproductive diseases and skin ailments,” he explains.