Health facilities, adequate compensation must be provided

Taking a serious note of the increasing silicosis-related deaths in the country, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has recommended that silicosis be made a notifiable disease. Once notified, all government and private health facilities will have to report confirmed as well as suspected silicosis cases to the government.

Silicosis is an incurable lung disease caused by inhaling of dust containing free crystalline silica. The potential victims of silicosis are poor migrant workers employed in quarries, mines, gem cutting and other hazardous occupations such as construction sites, a majority of whom are likely to die for lack of specialised treatment.

In a special report — a first of its kind — presented to Parliament, the NHRC has suggested that the government should ensure health facilities to all workers employed at places prone to silica and earmark adequate compensation to the families in case of death.

Talking to reporters here on Friday, P.C. Sharma, NHRC member, said the governments often adopted a strange attitude by saying that those employed in such hazardous jobs were migrant labourers and under the unorganised sector of employment, and hence not much could be done.

“This is a grievous violation of human rights because laws should be equal for organised and unorganised sector workers, keeping in mind the fact that a majority of workers in the country fall in the category of unemployed sector,” he said.

Mr. Sharma admitted that numerous laws were only on paper and poorly implemented. Preventive measures and health care facilities should be the responsibility of the employers, he said.

The Commission has also written to all States to identify the hazardous industries and mapping them for silica generation which results in silicosis. The response from the States were not adequate and they had been asked to send specific answers.

The report to Parliament also suggests regular check-up for the workers employed at places where they are exposed to silica and even linking silica treatment with the TB Control Programme.

It was based on the NHRC recommendation that Rajasthan enhanced compensation in case of silica-related death to Rs.3 lakh. It has also set up a corpus of Rs.25 crore for the purpose as instances of silica-related cases are very high in that State.