ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Killing Them Silently

Compensating workers dying of silicosis is an important legal breakthrough.

The 4 May direction by the Supreme Court in an ongoing case on occupational health hazards and compensation to affected persons is significant in many respects. The Court has directed the Gujarat government to immediately pay an amount of ₹3 lakh each to the next of kin of 238 workers who died after contracting silicosis. It has also asked the Madhya Pradesh (MP) government to compensate 304 workers who are afflicted with the disease and unable to work.

Silicosis is a deadly occupational disease, a silent killer. Exposure to fine silica dust in mining, construction, stone crushing, gem cutting and other such industries impairs lung function, leaving people vulnerable to diseases like tuberculosis (TB). As a result, it is difficult to establish causality between early onset of silicosis and death due to TB. Most of the people employed in such industries are already very poor and undernourished and work without any protective gear. Although silicosis is recognised as an occupational disease in India and listed as a notified disease under the Mines Act, 1952 and the Factories Act, 1948, rarely have workers succeeded in proving that illness or death was caused by exposure to silica dust.

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