In the wake of references being made to investigate the health issues of mine workers, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) proposes to establish a statutory authority.

Cancer, tuberculosis, silicosis, diabetes, musculoskeletal disorders and pulmonary function impairment such as asthma affect mine workers.

The proposed authority will coordinate with the Ministries and authorities concerned for taking administrative, legal and medical action.

The ICMR has approached the State governments for developing a framework for the proposal.

“A very weak monitoring system prevents taking appropriate preventive and curative measures for addressing the health issues of mine workers. This also creates problems in deciding compensation as well,” Dr. Vishwa Mohan Katoch, Director-General of ICMR, said.

Silicosis deaths

Taking serious note of increasing silicosis-related deaths in the country, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) had 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 caused when dust containing free crystalline silica is inhaled. The victims are mostly migrant workers of quarries, mines, gem cutting and those employed in the construction sector.

In a special report — a first of its kind — presented to Parliament, the NHRC said the government should ensure health facilities for workers employed at places where silica is produced and earmark adequate compensation to families in case of death of workers. The Commission wrote to all States to identify hazardous industries and map them for silica generation. The report also suggested regular medical check-ups for such workers and linking silica treatment with the TB Control Programme.

Compensation raised

It was on the basis of the NHRC recommendation that Rajasthan enhanced compensation for silica-related deaths to Rs.3 lakh. It also set up a corpus of Rs.25 crore for the purpose. Barring Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Puducherry, to some extent, nothing concrete has been done by the Centre and other States for labourers prone to silicosis, the NHRC said.

Despite the Factories Act, Labour Act, Mines Act, Employees Act and Minimum Wages Act, the labourers, constituting a majority in the unorganised sector, remain neglected.

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