Earlier this month, India’s Supreme Court ordered the state government of Gujarat pay US$4,600 in compensation to the families of deceased workers.
The workers, most of them from the districts of Madhya Pradesh, died of silicosis, a lung disease caused by the inhalation of crystalline, silica dust, while working in the quartz mining industries of Gujarat.
Hundreds of migrant workers have died of the disease and their families have been fighting for the last ten years for compensation. Shuriah Niazi has this report.
Hura Bai is bed ridden and very weak.
She is suffering from silicosis. The disease has already claimed the lives of her husband, son, daughter-in-law, and other relatives.
“I have lost many family members who went to work in Gujarat,” Hura Bai told me.
“Now I have been suffering from the disease for the last three years after working there too. I suffer from breathlessness and also joint pains, and I haven’t received a single penny from anywhere.”
Hundreds of families in the tribal-dominated areas of Jhabua, Dhar and Alirajpur districts in the state of Madhya Pradesh, have also fallen victim to the deadly disease.
Vasta Bhai lost four of his sons, after they got jobs in a factory in Gujarat.
“They used to crush stones at the plant and they all contracted silicosis while working there,” Vasta Bhai revealed.
However, a recent judgement from the Supreme court has brought new hope.
It is believed the order to the Gujarat government to pay compensation will now also force the state government and the administration to take action against quartz factories, which have been operating illegally and care little about their workers.
Amulya Nidhi represents the local NGO, Swastha Adhikar Manch, which has been fighting for the workers’ rights.
“We had been waiting for this decision for the last decade,” Nidhi stated.
“Now we hope the state governments of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh will implement it. The court has pointed out that the Gujarat state failed to protect the rights of poor migrant workers from Madhya Pradesh as they didn't take any preventive measure, while the labourers worked in deplorable safety conditions and ultimately contracted silicosis.”
Hundreds of people who worked in the four quartz factories in Gujarat have lost their lives to silicosis upon returning home to Madhya Pradesh.
And many more are bed-ridden after returning from work in the quartz factories.
After it is mined, the factories are tasked with crushing the quartz, which is high in silica. But when the fine dust is inhaled, it can settle on the lungs and cause silicosis.
“During work they inhale fine silica dust and once the silica powder enters the lungs, it causes scarring and hardening of lung tissue,” explains Dr Vikrant Bhuria, a doctor at a government hospital in Jhabua, in Madhya Pradesh.
“Slowly the powder hardens in the lungs and the affected person suffers from breathlessness, fever and cough. Within two weeks to two years, the person becomes very weak and loses appetite. As the lung damage increases, the person suffers from severe breathlessness and ultimately dies.”
Over the past ten years almost 600 workers died from silicosis in Madhya Pradesh, according to a recent survey by the local organization, Shilp Kendra.
But when Asia Calling contacted factory owners in Gujarat, they declined to comment.
In 2010 the National Human Rights Commission asked the Gujarat government to compensate the workers and their families – but they didn’t receive anything.
Amulya Nidhi says it has been tough to get the government to respond.
“We have been trying hard to see the government take action against these factories. We wanted them to be closed so that innocent workers should not be trapped and exploited. Those working in these factories will die one day in the absence of proper safety measures,” said Nidhi.
It is hoped now, that the new ruling by the Supreme court, might make the difference.