By Jagdish Patel*
Dahod district’s adivasi workers have won the legal battle in the fight for getting compensation for suffering from silicosis. The industrial court, Vadodara, took six years to deliver its verdict for payment of compensation to nine workers. The Employees’ State Insurance Corporation (ESIC) has been asked to the pay the compensation, called disablement benefit in legal terms. The judgment was delivered by Vadodara industrial court judge KK Pandya on February 26 on the basis of nine petitions moved before him for compensation. Concurring with the plea to give cent per cent compensation to each of the silicosis victims, the court also asked the ESIC to pay eight per cent rate of interest with effect from 2007. This apart, the court ordered payment of Rs 1,000 as expenditure to the victims. The ESIC is required to comply with the order within 20 days. The applicants’ lawyer PG Mavalankar was present when the judgment was delivered.
Godhra region’s stone grinding units have become notorious for causing silicosis. In the last 30 years, the hazardous industry has considerably spread in Godhra and Balasinor regions. These units grind quartz stones, and prepare them for delivery. These stones are used in different types of products. The workers who work in these units face the risk of becoming victims of silicosis. In reply to a complaint (No 300/6/25/07-08) before the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), the Gujarat government has admitted that 238 workers from Madhya Pradesh, who worked in these units, have died because of silicosis. In the year 2000, as many as 1,000 young boys and girls, working in the rural areas of Chhotaudepur, died of silicosis after suffering from the disease. None of them, however, received any compensation. Earlier, too, hundreds of workers died of silicosis in villages around Godhra.
In the year 2004, the Dahod Civil Hospital referred several workers to the Siyaji Hospital in Vadodara. This was widely reported in the newspapers. Thereafter, the People’s Training and Research Centre (PTRC), which works on occupational health issues, made its own investigations. It revealed the shocking reality that workers suffered from silicosis in a large number of villages of Dahod district, and many of them have died. Thereafter, the PTRC began working in this area and represented before the Gujarat government. The Gujarat government asked the organization working on occupational health, National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH), to investigate. The NIOH found that many workers working in these units were suffering from silicosis.
While these units legally come under the purview of the ESIC, the workers working in them were not issued any identity cards. As the workers did not have the evidence of working in the units, the PTRC used the Right to Information (RTI) tool in order to collect important information about this. Thereafter, in the year 2008, the PTRC helped as many as 15 workers to make an application for compensation in the ISIC court. When the matter was still in the process, of the 15 workers, six – Tansing Kamol, his wife Kokila Kamol, Mukesh Manji Damor, Chiman Natha Kamol, Fakira Virsing Damor, and Mangu Suratan-sadiya – died. The application of the other nine workers – Kumsing Fata Kamol, Kamila Fata Kamol, Salsing Sadiya, Magan Kheta Kamol, Virsing Joti, Jashwant Manji, Menaben Nandubhai, Soka Narji and Subhash Soka – was admitted by the court.
The ESIC lawyer Pandey pleaded before the court that these workers’ cases should be placed before the medical board. Disagreeing with the plea, the court referred to a Gujarat High Court Judgment (Babubhai vs ESIC) and said that silicosis is a deadly disease, and it leads to cent per cent disability, hence the board does not need be consulted for this. Pointing out that NIOH is the country’s most authoritative institute, the court upheld its opinion. The court concurred with the applicants’ view that they were suffering from silicosis. Before approaching the court, the applicants had approached the ESIC with the request to appear before the medical board for investigation in order to get the compensation, but ESIC ignored their plea. The court censured the ESIC for this and, setting aside all the arguments of ESIC, delivered the historic judgment.
*Director, People’s Training and Research Centre, Vadodara. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org