Friday, May 20, 2016

Supreme Court issues warrant Against Pollution Chief Over Gujarat workers' deaths

NEW DELHI:  The Supreme Court has issued a rare warrant against the chief of the country's pollution control board in a decade-old case of stone workers in Gujarat who died of silicosis. The Supreme Court issued the warrant this week after the head of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) failed to notify the court of steps taken to prevent the deaths of workers from the respiratory disease, according to Radha Kant Tripathy, a lawyer with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). Activists welcomed the move for greater accountability.

"It is very significant and very unusual that the court issued the warrant," said Colin Gonsalves, founder of the Human Rights Law Network which represented the petitioner, the charity Peoples' Rights and Social Research Centre (PRASAR).

The CPCB takes the matter very seriously, and will address the court's concerns, A. Sudhakar, a senior official, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. India is one of the largest producers of raw stone, accounting for more than a quarter of stones mined worldwide. 
Millions of workers in India's quartz mines, quarries and stone-crushing factories have contracted silicosis from long-term exposure to silica dust, say activists. About a fifth of mine workers in India are children.

Many of the workers are poor tribals or bonded labourers who work for little or no money. They rarely receive medical care or compensation for loss of pay because of the disease. "These workers are abandoned by their employer, by the state. They have no rights, no protection," Mr Gonsalves said.

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court ordered the Gujarat government to pay 3 lakhs to the families of each of the 238 migrant workers from Madhya Pradesh who died of the incurable lung disease, which they had contracted working in quarries and stone-crushing factories in Godhra, in Gujarat. The state must submit proof it has paid compensation within eight weeks, the court said. It said Madhya Pradesh will rehabilitate a further 304 workers from that state who contracted the disease. The next hearing at the Supreme Court is on June 30.