Monday, May 16, 2016

Silicosis deaths: Supreme Court asks Gujarat to pay Rs 7 crore, pulls up chief of pollution board

In a rare order, the Supreme Court has issued a bailable warrant against the chief of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) after he did not show up to explain steps taken for preventing death of workers due to silicosis, a lung disease caused by inhalation of dust containing silica.

The top court has also directed the Gujarat government to release more than Rs 7 crore as compensation to the families of 238 workers who died due to silicosis after working in Godhra’s quartz and stone crushing industries. Issuing the order last week, a bench of Justices Kurian Joseph and Rohinton F Nariman expressed concern over the negligent attitude of the CPCB in addressing the issue of this occupational health hazard although hundreds of people, mostly tribals from Madhya Pradesh, have died due to silicosis while working in Gujarat.

In February, the court asked the CPCB to apprise it of steps taken to prevent the disease and to provide workers a dignified and safe working environment. It had also sought CPCB’s response to a detailed report filed in the court on causes of the disease and the safeguards. Since no response was put forth by the CPCB, the bench asked its chairman to appear before the court. “Despite service of notice on the Chairman of the CPCB, there is neither any personal appearance nor any appearance through the counsel requesting exemption from personal appearance. In that view of the matter, issue bailable warrant for securing the presence of the Chairman of the Board on the next date of hearing,” the bench ordered while fixing June 30 as the next date.

On according monetary relief to the families of the workers who died, the bench underlined that there had been directives by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in 2010 but the Gujarat government was still to comply. Noting that the Gujarat government had not challenged the NHRC’s directive, the apex court ordered the state to disburse Rs 1 lakh each to next of kin of 238 workers who died due to the disease, and deposit another Rs 2 lakh each in bank accounts to enable the families earn interest on it.

“In the interest of the kith and kin of people who died on account of the disease and particularly in the interest of the orphan children, the state of Gujarat should forthwith comply with the direction of the NHRC,” the bench said, adding district collectors of Jhabua and Alirajpur districts of Madhya Pradesh, from where these workers had travelled to Gujarat to work, will distribute the money. 

 It clarified that the Gujarat government’s contention regarding liability of the employee state insurance corporation (ESIC) to pay shall be adjudicated later. The chief secretary of Madhya Pradesh government has also been directed to file an affidavit detailing steps taken by them for rehabilitation of 304 people who have been identified as affected by silicosis.

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