Lack of alternative employment pushes people to work in agate processing units, leading to silicosis

silicosisaOn a complaint lodged by NGO People’s Training and Research Centre’s (PTRC’s) Jagdish Patel, a National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) team visited Tehsil Khambhat, District Anand, Gujarat, from last year and met, among others, victims and family members of the deceased, who had died due to silicosis/silicosis TB. Below are reproduced statements taken by the team of those who suffered due to the deadly disease:

Gist of the statement of NoK of the deceased who had worked in agate processing units of District Anand and died due to silicosis or silicosis tuberculosis:

Prior to death, the deceased were engaged in agate processing work either at factories or at their own residence for the last several years varying from 5 years to 30 years. Initially these people worked on emery wheel (a dry process) which emitted high silica dust. Affected persons gradually fell sick after exposure to silica dust and underwent treatment at Govt. Hospital, Khambhat prior to their death. Some of them got financial assistance from the Labour & Employment Department, Govt. of Gujarat (vide notification No. LWS/142011/715751/M-3 dated 04.01.2014) but majority of them did not get any financial assistance.

Family members of the deceased persons also deposed that they know consequences of exposure to silica dust but since there is no other opportunity for employment in Khambhat, they are forced to work in agate processing units. Most of widows have responsibilities of their growing children. Prior to death, deceased were earning Rs 25 to 125 per day working for 8 hours. Some of them, who used to work in agate units run by others, did not get any financial support from their owners during the ailment period.

Statement of residents of Khambhat suffering from silicosis/silicosis tuberculosis and undergoing treatment:

Sheela Ben, 50, Khambhat:

She started working in agate processing in the age of 15 years and worked for more than 20 years. She stopped working for the last 15 years. She used to work for different suppliers. Five years back, she was diagnosed with silicosis tuberculosis (silico TB) and is still undergoing treatment at Govt. Hospital, Khambhat. Her husband, brother and sister-in-law also died due to silicosis. She used to earn Rs 100 per day by working for 8-9 hours daily. She also added that no one ever briefed her about safety measures.

Ramesh Bhai, 41, village Shakarpur, Tehsil Khambhat:

He started working in agate processing in 1992 at different places in Khambhat. In 2006, he was diagnosed silicosis tuberculosis and is still undergoing treatment. His parents also died due to silicosis. His younger brother is also suffering from silicosis and is in advance stage of the disease. He was earning Rs 50-60 per day by working 6-7 hours daily. No safety measures were adopted by him during work.

Jai Bunna Bibi, 45, village Mahetpur, Tehsil Khambhat:

She started working in agate prior to her marriage at the age of 15 years. After marriage, her husband and she worked in agate processing from their residence. Raw materials were brought by her husband and her brother-in-law from various suppliers. Her husband and herself are suffering from silicosis and continuing under medication from Govt. Hospital, Khambhat. Though she was not well for the last few years, but has continued working in order to sustain her family. Due to silicosis, five close relatives of her family have already died. She also added that more than 200 people from her village have died due to silicosis. Due to poor health, they are not able to work anywhere and are facing hardship. She has requested for financial assistance for the people suffering from silicosis.

Baicher Bhai, age 62 years, village Shakarpur, Tehsil Khambhat:

He worked in agate from 1966 to 1976. In 1980–81, he was diagnosed with TB and underwent treatment and later on recovered. After that he stopped working in agate. However, about two months back, he was diagnosed with silicosis TB and is under medication at Govt. Hospital, Khambhat. He also added that there are many home-based processing units surrounding his residence.

Ishwar Bhai, 65 years, village Nana Kalodara, Tehsil Khambhat:

He never worked in agate processing units. However, there was an agate processing unit adjacent to his residence which was functioned for 30 years. Now that factory is closed for the last 15 years. Due to pollutant emission from the factory, he contracted silicosis 20 years back. He is under treatment on regular interval. He tried to sue factory in the court but failed. He also learnt that family members of the factory owner also died due to illness related to agate.

Yakub Bhai, 56, Panch Hattari, Tehsil Khambhat:

He started working in 1980 at the age of 14-15 years on emery wheel. He worked for 7-8 years and then quit the work. Around five years back, he fell sick and was diagnosed with silico TB. Initially he underwent treatment at private hospital but when his health did not improve, he started treatment from Govt. Hospital, Khambhat. He also added that grinding of agate stone especially in drums causes highest levels of pollution. If 100 kg stone (agate stone) is put in a drum, approximately 40 kg crushed stones are recovered and remaining 60 kg stone is converted into dust. He also stated that at least 10-15 persons are required in an agate processing unit (factory) for smooth work. He knows there was risk in this work, but since there is no other means of livelihood, he was compelled to work in agate processing.

Babu Bhai Thakur, 59, Kothiawad, Tehsil Khambhat:

He started working when he was 12 years old. Initially, he worked on dry emery wheel at somebody’s residence. Later on, he started agate work from his own residence. At present, he is using diamond wheel for grinding which emits less pollution. Around 2006-07, he developed some health problem and later on was diagnosed with silicosis. His wife is also working with him. He takes raw material on piece rate from different suppliers, and after finishing, he returned it to the same supplier. He is getting Re 1 to Rs. 2.50 per piece. At present, he is not having any problem. His wife Kailash Ben also corroborated the version of her husband.

Dinesh Bhai Parmar, 42, Mailpur Road, Khambhat:

He worked in agate processing unit (vertical wheel) for 5-6 year, belonging to his relatives. At present, he is doing labour work for the last 10-12 years. During working in agate processing, he developed health problems like breathlessness, cough and weakness etc. and thus he quit the work. He went to CHC, Khambhat and was diagnosed with tuberculosis. Later on, he took medicine from the clinic of PTRC (NGO) and after x-ray he was diagnosed with silicosis. His father also did agate work and died due to ailment. His two colleagues also died due to same ailment. He was not aware about the consequences of agate work and no one educated him about the risk. He even doesn’t know what is MGNREGA.

Rekha Ben, 40, Khambhat:

Her parents used to work on agate grinding for years and they have expired. She also worked for 10 years on emery wheel (dry process) and is now facing health problems. However, she did not undergo any medical examination to rule out silicosis. Her two brothers have also died due to silicosis. She knows there is a risk while working on agate processing but since there is no other opportunity of employment, people are doing this work.

Habib Sah, 41, Barwah, Khambhat:

He and his wife are working in agate processing units (vertical wheel) for the last 22-23 years. He is getting Rs 50 per kg for grinding/polishing the agate stones. Each day they grind approximately 5 kg agate. Around 7-8 years ago, he fell sick and underwent treatment for silicosis. His wife is a tuberculosis patient and is also under medication from Govt. Hospital, Khambhat. His father was also working on agate processing units and died due to silicosis. He knows consequences of grinding/polishing of agate but due to non-availability of other employment, he is still doing this work. He is getting wages from agate suppliers but not getting any financial help for treatment. In case of requirement, he takes advance from suppliers of about Rs 5,000 to 7,000. He also added that he has never been cautioned about the risk of grinding of agate. No one from labour department/factory department ever visited him. Presently he is using wet method for agate grinding. So far, his parents, three brothers, sister and sister-in-law have died due to silicosis. His wife Rahima also corroborated the version of her husband.

Hamid Sah (Faqir), 53, Vadwa Metpur, Khambhat:

At present, he is working as a security guard for the last 5-6 years. Prior to this, he worked on agate grinding for 15 years at different units where 6-7 other people were also engaged. Around 7-8 years ago, his health deteriorated and he took two courses of tuberculosis. His TB became subdued but he was diagnosed silicosis. Since there is no other opportunity of employment, he worked in agate industry for livelihood. His parents have also died due to silicosis. He did not get any financial assistance from the Govt.

Kamda Ben, 52, village Shakarpur, Tehsil Khambhat tehsil:

She did agate grinding for 30 years. Five years back, she fell sick and later on was diagnosed silicosis TB by doctors of PTRC (NGO). She got treatment from Govt. Hospital, Khambhat and completed TB course in December 2014. She used to work in residential unit of her village. No preventive measure was adopted to reduce the dust. She was getting Rs 60 per day. She was grinding around 5 to 6 thousand small agates piece in a single day. Her husband already died due to silicosis around 23 years back.

Rekha Ben, 50, Mousampura, Khambhat:

Her husband had started working in agate processing (emery wheel) prior to her marriage. He worked for 25-30 years and died in 2010 due to silicosis. Her one son is also working in agate processing. She is facing difficulties in breathing for the last 2 years and is undergoing treatment at PTRC (NGO) for silicosis. He filed a form through PTRC (NGO) and got Rs one lakh from Gujarat Govt. in the last week of May 2015. She also stated that due to no other option for employment, she is forced to do agate work.

Yasin Khan Abdullah, 45, Jali Pole, Khambhat:

He used to work in agate processing factory till 2011. After that, he started working from his own house. He is getting 50 paisa per piece for grinding small agate stone. In 2014, he was diagnosed for silicosis tuberculosis and is presently undergoing treatment at CHC, Khambhat. Since there is no other opportunity for work, he has to work in agate industry.

Feroz Mia, 30, Siyma, Khambhat:

He worked for five years on emery wheel (dry process) to grind/polish agate stone along with 5-6 other workers in Khambhat. He earned Rs 100 per day. Around three years ago, he fell sick and quit the grinding work. After examination at Govt. Hospital, Khambhat, he was diagnosed silicosis and is under medication. He did not take any precaution during work and no one briefed him ever for taking any preventive measures in regard to agate work.

Mohd Qaum, 45, village Shakarpur, Tehsil Khambhat:

He worked in agate industry from 1984 to 1995 on emery wheel and grinded stones. Last year, he was diagnosed with silicosis TB and since then he is under treatment at Govt. Hospital, Khambhat.

Vimla Ben, 50, village Shakarpur, Tehsil Khambhat:

She worked for 20 years on emery wheel and grinded the agate stone. In 2007, she was diagnosed with silicosis TB and since then she is undergoing treatment at Govt. Hospital, Khambhat. Her husband had died around 15 years back due to silicosis.

Rayes, 58, Khambhat:

He worked for 16-17 years on emery wheel and grinded the agate stones till 1986. In 1993, he fell sick and was treated in Govt. Hospital, Khambhat. After that he often visits hospital for treatment. For the last three years, he is facing difficulty in breathing and was diagnosed silicosis TB. His sister also died due to same ailment.

Dawood, 41, village Shakarpur, Tehsil Khambhat:

He worked for 15 years on dry emery to grind the agates but quit the job around 4 years back. Later on he came to know that he is suffering from silicosis TB. At present, he is undergoing treatment at Govt. Hospital, Khambhat. He was not aware about the post effect of agate working otherwise he would not have come into this work.

Girish Bhai, 40, Mathur Bhai, Bajisa, Tehsil Khambhat:

He is doing agate grinding for the last 20 years on ‘pataya’ (a vertical process) at different places. Around 6 months back, he fell sick and was diagnosed silicosis TB. He is undergoing treatment at Govt. Hospital, Khambhat. He is doing this work in compulsion as he had no alternative work.

Dharmishta Ben, 29, village Shakarpur, Tehsil Khambhat:

Her husband used to work in agate polishing in drums for 20-22 years. In drums, boulders (agate) make shape/size. Due to this process, lots of powder is being produced (silica dust). Around two years back, her husband had diagnosed silicosis TB and now he is bedridden and is paralyzed. Her mother-in-law is also suffering from silicosis TB and is undergoing treatment. She is facing hardship and requested for financial assistance.

Jassi Ben, 38, village Shakarpur, Tehsil Khambhat:

Her husband worked on emery wheel polishing the agate stones for 20-22 years. In 2011-12, he fell sick and got treated in Govt. Hospital, Khambhat. Her husband also worked during his sickness as there is no other alternative of livelihood. In 2014, he died due to silicosis. In May 2015, she received Rs one lakh from State Govt. Presently, her son is working in agate processing to meet the daily needs.

Manjula Ben, 50, village Shakarpur, Tehsil Khambhat:

Prior to her marriage, her husband used to work in diamond polishing. But after marriage, he started agate polishing. Around two years back, her husband fell sick and his treatment was started from Govt. Hospital, Khambhat. However, he died last year due to silicosis TB. She got Rs 1 lakh as a financial help from State Govt.

Nabi Khan, 35, village Piploi, Tehsil, Khambhat:

He started agate polishing in the age of 12 in Jaipur (1992), Later on, he came to village Shakarpur, Tehsil Khambhat and started polishing of agate on ‘patya’ (one of the most polluting source of silica dust). For the last two months, his health deteriorated and he has started his treatment from Govt. Hospital, Khambhat for silicosis TB. Now he is not able to walk and most of the time, he is on the bed. He also added that when he was used to work, no one educated him or provided any safety measures to avoid silica dust.

Laxmi Ben, 55, village Shakarpur, Tehsil Khambhat:

She is working in agate factory owned by one Dilawar Bhai, Khambhat for the last 10 years. Her husband died due to some heart ailment around 10 years back. She earned Rs 120 every day for working in agate factory. Around two years back, she had some health problem and underwent clinical examination at PTRC (NGO) where she was diagnosed with silicosis TB. In the evening, her conditions worsen. She was not aware about the consequences from agate’s work. No one ever educate her about side effect of agate work. Since she has no other means of livelihood, she has to continue working in agate factory. She also lost her single son due to some illness.

Ajimullah Khan, 43, village Shakarpur, Tehsil, Khambhat:

He started working in diamond grinding around 9 years back. Three years back, he developed some health problems like fever, body ache and breathlessness. He went to PTRC clinic (NGO) and was diagnosed with silicosis TB. As and when he feels uncomfortable, he takes medicines. Earlier, he worked from home but when there were many deaths due to silica dust, he started working outside. He earned approximately Rs. five thousand in a month. He has no other option except to work in agate processing despite knowing its consequences. At present, he is working in an agate factory owned by one Irfan. He has been issued APL card (Above Poverty Line) and has not been issued BPL card (below poverty line) despite requesting many times.

Shanta Ben, 40, village Shakarpur, Khambhat:

She is working in agate factory owned by one Yusaf Bahi, Jangal Vistar, Khambhat for the last six years. She is working on drums in which agate stones are being crushed grinded for shape and shining. There are 6 other workers, including 4 women and 2 men. She earned Rs 120 per day and sometime took advance from owner up to Rs. five thousand. She knows there is health problem due to dust of agate. In 2014, her nephew also died due to silicosis TB. She is also having some health problems. Her one colleague also fell sick around six months back and quit the job.

Mehboob Bhai, 45, Shakarpur, Tehsil Khambhat:

He is working in the factory of one Harun Bhai of village Shakarpur for sorting the agates. He earned Rs 180 per day. Earlier, he worked on dry horizontal emery wheel for 15 years from his home. In 2010, he was diagnosed with TB and took medicines from CHC, Khambhat. Now he is diagnosed with silicosis and is facing difficulty in breathing. His parents were also working in agate processing and died due to TB. Due to non-availability of other employment, he picked up this work. He has not received any financial help from the Government. His wife used to work with him but after some health problems, she quit the job. Now she is also doing sorting of agates from their residence. He also added that some Govt. doctors briefed them about silicosis and its causes, but he continued working in agate for their livelihood.

Abdul Aziz, 50, Khambhat:

He was working in breaking agate stones for the last 6–7 years. He used to purchase raw agates from market. After breaking, he sells these agates in the market. Now, he is suffering from TB for the last 6 months.

Sheik Sayed Hussain, 46, village Shakarpur, Tehsil Khambhat:

He is doing agate grinding for the last 25 years in his residence. His other family members like wife, son and uncle are also doing this work. Around 4 years back, he had some health problems and went to Govt. Hospital, Khambhat where he was diagnosed with silicosis. He used to take raw materials from various Suppliers. For every 100 pieces of agate, he is getting Rs 150. He has APL card whereas he supposed to be issued BPL card. Till date, he did not get any help from the Govt. Due to non-availability of other opportunity, he and his family members are doing agate work in compulsion. He added that, if he gets another employment, he is ready to quit the agate processing work.

Nazma, 38, Pathangali, Khambhat:

She along with her husband, son and father-in-law are working on agate grinding. She is working in this job for the last 25 years. They have no other employment and doing this job in compulsion though they know its consequences. Her husband is suffering from silicosis but is still working. Her husband and uncle also supported her version.

Khatun Biwi, 55, village Sheikpur, Tehsil Khambhat:

Her son-in-law, daughter and she are working on agate grinding. She earns Rs 150 to Rs. 200 per day. Around 10 years back, she fell sick and got examined at PTRC clinic (NGO) and was diagnosed with silicosis disease. She took regular medicines. Presently she is not under any medication. She has not received any financial help from Govt. or any Supplier. Her daughter and son-in-law supported her version.

Khaitun Nisha, 48, village Shakarpur, Tehsil Khambhat:

She used to work agate grinding but due to her ill health, she quit the work. She was diagnosed with silicosis disease and is under medication. Her husband, father-in-law, brothers-in-law and sister-in-law were also working in agate grinding and died long back. She has not received any financial support from the Govt.

Hasan Bhai, 52, village Shakarpur, Tehsil Khambhat:

He is working in agate processing for the last 40 years. In his work, he engaged other person and his one son. His one accomplice is suffering from silicosis TB. He also underwent treatment of TB. He has not received any financial aid from the Govt. He is willing to relocate his agate unit at safe place if Govt. assists him.

***

The NHRC team found that, as per the data provided by the district TB Officer, district Anand, out of 59 applications which have been processed, in 20 cases of death due to silicosis, next of kin (NoK) have been given financial assistance of Rs 1 lakh, whereas 39 applications for financial assistance have been rejected on the ground of non-silicosis lung disease. Five other names were rejected because of incomplete record as the names of the candidates were not included in the state’s silicosis team report.

The team also found that, according to the official records, in the year 2010, 778 workers were medically examined in which 11 silico TB and 8 silicosis cases were detected. In 2011, 83 workers were medically examined out of which 4 silico TB and 4 silicosis cases were detected. In 2012, 26 workers were medically examined, out of which 1 silico TB and 1 silicosis cases were detected. In 2013, 240 workers were medically examined out of which 4 Silico TB and 1 silicosis cases were detected. In 2014, 466 workers were medically examined in which 18 Silico TB and 07 silicosis cases were detected. And in 2015, 778 workers were medically examined out of which 5 silico TB and 1 silicosis cases were detected.

In total, an NHRC report states, during 2010-15, 2,371 workers were medically examined, out of which 43 silico TB and 22 silicosis cases were detected and 27 workers died.

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