New Delhi: The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) this year is organizing a day-long conference on Silicosis at the India International Centre here on July 25.
Silicosis is a fibrotic lung disorder caused by inhalation, retention and pulmonary reaction to crystalline silica, as a result of exposure during mining, stone crushing and quarrying activities.
The aim of the National Conference is to discuss the status of action taken by the Union Ministry of Labour and Employment and States on the earlier recommendations made by the NHRC in the prevention, detection and eventual elimination of silicosis.
The participants will include, concerned officials/representatives of Central and State Governments/Union Territory Administrations, National Commissions, State Human Rights Commission, health experts and health scientists, legal experts, representatives of non-governmental organizations, civil society and technical organizations who deals with the problem of silicosis.
The most common form of silica is quartz. Exceptionally high exposure of silica can cause silicosis within a month with a significant impairment of lungs within few years. The major silicosis prone industries are: all stone quarries and crushers; quarts mining; foundries; sand blasting; ceramics industries; gem cutting and polishing; slate/pencil industries; construction; all mining industries; and glass manufacture industries.
As per the report of the Indian Council for Medical Research (1999), there are about 30 lakh workers in India are at a high risk of exposure to silica. Out of these, 17 lakh are in mining/quarrying activities, 6.3 lakh in glass and mica industry and 6.7 lakh in metals industry. In addition, 53 lakh construction workers are also at the risk of silica exposure.
The NHRC is of the view that the occupational hazard of silicosis is preventable if the working conditions are property regulated and proper warning and protective equipments are used. Once a worker or any other person is afflicted by silicosis it becomes a constitutional obligation on part of the State to take appropriate short-term and long-term measures from the point of view of providing medical facilities and rehabilitation of the victims.
In a meeting convened in the NHRC on the 1st May, 2008, it was reiterated that silicosis is an occupational hazard and could only be prevented if the working conditions of workers are properly regulated in both the organized and un-organized sectors and needful precautions are adhered to by the employers.
As per the decisions of this meeting, the Union Government, States and Union Territories were circulated a ten point questionnaire seeking to know various details, including, number of cases of silicosis, relief and rehabilitation and insurance of all the workers affected by silicosis etc.
The Commission in 2009, constituted an Expert Group on Silicosis to assist in devising strategies for dealing with this occupational hazard and to evolve necessary preventive, remedial, rehabilitative measures to alleviate the problem faced by the affected workers and their families. Based on the advice of the Expert Group, the Commission has prepared a set of recommendations on Preventive, Remedial, Rehabilitative and Compensation aspect of silicosis.
The Supreme Court of India, on the 5th March, 2009, while hearing a Writ Petition (Civil) No. 110/2006, People`s Rights and Social Research Centre (PRASAR) v/s Union of India and others, observed that "the NHRC may take up the specific and confirmed cases of persons who are suffering from silicosis and shall recommend to provide immediate medical relief to them through the concerned authorities and in case of those persons who died because of silicosis, may provide for compensation through the concerned authorities."
On the March 1, 2011, the Commission organized a National Conference on Silicosis in New Delhi. Its objective was to assess the action taken by the States/Union Territories on the recommendations made by the NHRC in its National Meeting convened on the May 1, 2008.
The other objective was to discuss the present status with various non-governmental organizations and technical institutions dealing with the issue of silicosis.
As part of the recommendations of this Conference, Regional Review Meetings of concerned officials of States/Union Territories in different groups were convened and proactive action towards prevention, rehabilitation and compensation to victims of silicosis by them was reiterated by the Commission.
In order to draw the attention of the Government and the Parliamentarians towards the inhumane conditions faced by all those ailing from silicosis including their immediate family members, the Commission also prepared a Special Report on Silicosis and forwarded it to the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India for laying it before the Parliament.