High Court asks State government and AP Mineral Development Corporation to compensate the victims

In what may herald a sense of closure to their four-decade long suffering from silicosis, the Andhra Pradesh High Court has asked the State and the AP Mineral Development Corporation to own up and compensate the victims.

About 200 of the 400 workers employed in the Corporation’s quartz mine at Elkatta and Chowlapalli villages of Mahabubnagar district, most of them belonging to Lambada tribal, Dalit and Backward Class communities, have silicosis, what is locally called “guttala bimari” or the disease from the hillocks.

Evading responsibility

Working without protective gear and exposed to high doses of silica dust while working in these mines, in operation from 1964 to 1974, many workers have either perished or been leading a vegetable-like life for decades. Far from taking responsibility for their illness, marked by bouts of breathlessness, the APMDC retrenched the workers in 1974 and closed the mines, apparently to escape the liability.

With the help of activists like M. Sambasiva Rao of the Banjara Development Society the victims had the issue raised in the State Assembly and the Lok Sabha and also petitioned the National Human Rights Commission. Justice, however, had been elusive all these years.

Repeated suffering

Survivors were made to undergo medical tests in various hospitals in the city, just to prove their illness. Mr. Rao brought them in batches to city for these tests in the late 90s, but even after this there was no succour.

It was then that the late human rights activist K. Balagopal filed a petition in the AP High Court in 2000, questioning the inaction of the State government in taking responsibility for the deaths.

The activist-lawyer relied on a previous Supreme Court ruling , holding the employer of such mines/factories responsible for the health of workers, even ten years after the cessation of employment and for payment of compensation.

CJ dusts off case

The case was forgotten till Chief Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghose took interest and treated it as a PIL to be heard by a division bench.

Hearing a plea along with Justice Vilas V. Afzulpurkar, the Bench passed an order on March 4, holding APMDC responsible for extending a compensation scheme.

Call for help

But here’s the catch.

While accepting the court verdict, the APMDC has again asked the surviving workers to prove that they were employed in the mine and that they suffered from silicosis, and get it certified by Inspector of Mines (Medical).

The Banjara Development Society, which had ferried them to hospitals for tests and various offices in the past, has no funds now.

Any organisation interested in helping the cause of these hapless victims can contact Mr. Sambasiva Rao of the Society on the number 9440460077.

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