Compensate silicosis deaths: NHRC to Jharkhand, Delhi

The National Human Rights Commission has come down heavily on the Jharkhand government on the 22 documented silicosis deaths in the state, asking the Chief Secretary to explain why the families of the deceased should not be recommended for monetary compensation.

The NHRC has noted that "the enforcement agencies of Jharkhand have not taken proper steps for eradication of silicosis which is caused by inhaling of silica dust resulting in death of these persons". The show-cause notice follows another to the CS of Delhi for failing to protect 21 workers.

The July 10 dated press statement posted on the NHRC's website states that CS S K Choudhary has been given eight weeks to respond. "The Commission has also asked the state government to submit a report about the action taken regarding medical treatment and rehabilitation of workers who are suffering from silicosis and are alive," said the statement.

The order was given on June 25 for both Delhi and Jharkhand.

All the 22 deaths occurred in Musabani block of East Singhbhum district. The deceased were employees of the same dust-generating unit.

"There are 15,000 dust-generating units in Jharkhand. These include 10,000-12,000 stone crushers, 45-50 ramming mass units, 192 iron ore crushers, 50 sponge iron units. We have documented 32 deaths since 2002; 22 of them have been conclusively proven. There are so many undocumented deaths," said Samit Kumar Carr, general secretary of the Occupational Safety & Health Association of Jharkhand. The NHRC has acted on a complaint by him.

Even in the face of strong evidence on the contrary, the state government has continued to maintain that it does not have facilities to conclusively prove that the 22 who died between 2002 and 2011 did so because of silicosis. "It may be recalled that on May 22, 2011, the CS, Jharkhand, appeared before the Commission. He claimed that there was no certifying surgeon available in Jharkhand for diagnosis of the ailment of silicosis," said the NHRC statement.

Choudhary said that he was aware of the show-cause notice. "I have not seen a copy yet. We have been doing something for these workers, though I am not aware of plans for monetary compensation. It is very difficult to ascertain silicosis," he said.

Silicosis is the most common occupational lung disease. It has been defined by the International Labor Organization as an, "incurable lung disease caused by inhalation of dust that contains free crystalline silica."

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