National level consultation – New Delhi 30th Sep 2019
The history of silicosis as Dr. Joshi pointed out dates 1000s of years back. The prisoners of war in the ancient times were forced to work in the mines and die of silicosis as a form of torture. However, even today in independent India 1000s of workers of India lose their life due to occupational health diseases. As the ILO, rightly recognizes, “work kills more people than war”. Silicosis is a serious occupational health hazard in India especially among mine workers. The deadly disease silicosis continues to silently kill hundreds of workers. Thousands of mine workers die before reaching the age of 40. According to studies, 10 million miners working in the mining sector are exposed to silica dust. It is also reported that 50 per cent of miners are found to be suffering from silicosis in any given age group. Radiological investigations conducted by the Indian council of Medical Research found that 56 per cent of mine workers in Rajasthan are affected with silicosis or silica-tuberculosis. Given the urgency of the problem where thousands of workers and families are suffering from silicosis and other occupational health diseases, the National Conference on Silicosis was organized by Samata, mines, minerals and People (mm&P), PRASAR, Gravis, Directorate General of Health Government of Delhi, Daang Vikas Sansthan and HEDCON on 30th September, 2019 in Constitution Club of India. The Conference was attended by medical doctors, social activists, members of trade unions, Delhi Government employees, members of media groups, industry and mine workers, victims of silicosis, widows of silicosis workers and students.
Mr. Ashok Shrimali, Secretary General, mm&P said that though some states like Rajasthan, Gujarat Haryana have come up with Silicosis Rehabilitation Policies for affected families, the implementation is skewed. The process of identification, diagnosis and compensation is faced by administrative bottlenecks. One of the first problems faced is the insistence on workers producing their job cards, certificate of registration with their employers/mine owners which is impossible to obtain in most cases. Another important issue is the misdiagnosis of silicosis as tuberculosis. Interstate migration needs to be addressed. Mr. Bansilal Bhinjana, Mr. K.V Pratap and Mr. Swaraj Das who work with labor union in Rajasthan, Telangana and West Bengal spoke about the double bind that the women face due to silicosis- they are either single parents and/or themselves victims of silicosis but still have the burden of sustaining their families-even when aware that their entry into mine and industries is a death- trap, their economic helplessness is forcing them to join the mine labor force along with their minor children in illegal and inhuman conditions. This vicious cycle of inter-generational trap of poverty induced silicosis needs to be urgently tapped.
Shri Faggan Singh Kulaste, MoS, Ministry of Steel who has also served the portfolio of Health Ministry in the past made a very impactful presentation on the state of health especially in the rural areas. He said, health safety has many dimensions and extends to the people exposed to second hand dust i.e. those who live nearby the mines and industry. Unfortunately, the health of the workers is of least concern to the government and the corporates. The major concern is only the profits made by the projects. Shri Ashwini Kumar Choubey, MoS, Ministry of Health spoke about the traditional medicine that India is proud of how it complements the Ayushman Bharat Mission of the Government. Thus, an important message to mankind is to think and rethink about the importance of health of the workers. The government is slowly taking steps to improve the condition of labors. He asked all the people to pledge to work for eradicating the harms of occupational health issues.
Given this scenario of Silicosis in the country there is an urgent need for
- detailed listing of all mineral/industry specific occupational and respiratory health problems be undertaken by respective labor departments.
- training to medical doctors and the community to treat and identify silicosis
- state governments to undertake proper record, identification, diagnosis and treatment of silicosis with proper procedures for enumeration, registration of affected workers and their families.
- take strict steps for misdiagnosis as medical negligence is a criminal offense.
- there is a need for convergence of Ministries at the policy level. Such as convergence of Labor Ministry, Mines Ministry and Health Ministry.
- the Silicosis Monitory boards should have representation form the silicosis affected people.
- address lack of data availability and documentation.
- the rehabilitation policy needs to rethought through. The present compensation only addresses an emergency and does not help in rehabilitation.
- the interstate migrants need to be recognized and their rights given.
- Work safety technology needs to be upscaled.
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