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 been struck by silicosis, what is locally called “guttala bimari” or the disease from the hillocks.
Working without protective gear and exposed to high doses of silica dust while working in these mines, which were 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 prolonged illness, marked by bouts of breathlessness, the APMDC retrenched all the workers in 1974 and suddenly closed the mines, apparently to escape from liability.
With the help of social 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.
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 massive exercise, there was no succour.
It was in these circumstances 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 the Supreme Court judgment in a similar case of asbestosis, 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.
The petition was forgotten till Chief Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghose took interest and treated it as a Public Interest Litigation to be heard by a division bench.
After hearing the petition 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 BDS, 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 could contact Mr. Sambasiva Rao of BDS on 9440460077.
High Court asks State government and AP Mineral Development Corporation to compensate the victims