By Our Representative
Poonabhai Ramabhai Parmar, 59, has become the fourth victim of the deadly silicosis disease — which is rampant in and around Khambhat town of Central Gujarat — this year. Parmar breathed his last on February 25 night. Large number of locals joined his funeral on February 26 morning. Informing about his death, Jagdish Patel, senior social activist of the state-based NGO People’s Training and Research Centre (PTRC), Vadodara, said, “Parmar worked in a textile mill in Khambhat till 1994, and when mill was closed he turned to agate polishing. He was diagnosed of silicosis at Sri Krishna Hospital, Karamsad, in December 2012. He was bedridden for the few months.”
Patel, who is one of India’s topmost campaigners against the occupational disease, said, “This is the fourth death in 2014 following the death of Rukhiben Jethabhai, Isub Ibrahim and Nannusha Diwan. In 2013, as many as 14 male and 2 female workers died of silicosis.” He regretted, “In 2012 Government of Gujarat declared a welfare scheme for the workers dying of silicosis according to which Rs 1 was to be paid to the dependents. For technical reasons the scheme could not take off.”
Pointing out that recently the Government of Gujarat declared revised scheme, Patel said, “Accordingly, now the amount of Rs 1 lakh is to be given by the board for unorganized sector workers and not any insurance company. The scheme is to be implemented by the Rural Labour Commissioner (RLC). A resolution passed on January 4, 2013 reads that the rules should be drafted jointly by the director, Industrial Safety and Health (DISH) and the RLC to implement the government’s revised scheme.”
However, Patel pointed out, unfortunately, “the rules have not yet been framed, nor are the claim forms available with the RLC. Claims have to pass through the offices of RLC, DISH and the Guajrat health department before going to the board for disbursement.” Calling it a “a lengthy procedure”, Patel explained that it would “take a long time as each government department is working with poor staffing.”
The Gujarat indifference comes at a time when other states, especially the “poorer” ones — Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh — have begun to pay to the kin of those who die of silicosis. The view is strong among activists that even a push from the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has “failed” to motivate the state government to take any concrete steps in right direction.
Patel recalled, “The Supreme Court passed an interim order in 2009 in PIL on Silicosis 110/2006 directing the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to go ahead with relief in case of confirmed cases of death due to silicosis and rehabilitation in case of workers living with silicosis”, adding, “Unfortunately, the Government of Gujarat has not come out with any scheme for rehabilitation.”
Gujarat government indifference towards silicosis victims comes two months after the state officialdom decided to ignore another NHRC advice late last year, sent in the form of a “recommendation”, to pay up Rs 5 lakh each to five workers who had died of the deadly silicosis disease about three years ago. The NHRC had acted on Patel’s complaint in 2011 and arrived at the conclusion that the Gujarat government had failed to ensure safety standards in stone cutting units, operating in Godhra, Gujarat.