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Agate Worker Mr. Dilawar at work. Image source: http://www.counterview.org

Mr. Dilawar, aged 36, an agate polisher of Khambhat, Gujarat, succumbed to silicosis earlier this year.  He has been exposed to silica sand from years of cutting and polishing the agate stones that go into everything from junk jewellery to landscaped gardens. Years of inhaling the fine dust particles as a result of dry grinding, causes the silicosis that kills the polishers. Mr. Dilawar is just one among the invisible victims of development in India who are contracting fatal diseases at work. However, their predicament is neither reported nor are they compensated. This is according to a new report released by Asia Monitor Resource Centre(AMRC)

“Invisible” because it is difficult to obtain actual numbers. It is estimated that around 18 million people in India are currently victims of occupational diseases.In an interview to a leading news outlet, Mr. Sanjiv Pandita, Executive Director, AMRC laments,

“The problem is there is no data, absolutely no data. You can get quarterly data for economic statistics, but you can’t get any data about the workers… what is their health, how are they faring? There is no data on that,” said Sanjiv Pandita, Executive Director, AMRC.

There is no provision to report accidents at work for large number of workers across economic sectors.

In 2005, ILO published its estimates on accidents in India (Introductory Report; Decent Work-Safe Work). According to this report, based on 2001 figures, economically active population in India was 443.8 million. ILO estimated 40,133 fatal accidents in India. It also estimated 2,61,891 fatal work-related diseases. Against this estimation, our (AMRC) official data  reported 1346 deaths at work and we have no estimation of our own.  In India there is 1 factory Inspector for every 506 factories (the number has increased from 415 in the year 2008). Some of the states like Punjab have a ratio of 1:1601 and Andhra  Pradesh 1:795.

The report highlights the reasons that increase the risk of mortality. These include:

  • Lack of training in occupational health safety
  • Lack of personal protective gear
  • Poor quality of protective equipment
  • High workplace pollution
  • Inadequate training for handling machinery and chemicals
  • Long and odd working hours

In many cases, when workers fall sick, they just go home. So, the problem of reporting any incident vanishes for the employer. Lack of regulation over the use of toxic materials compounds the problem further.

Asia Monitor Resource Centre is an independent non-government organisation which focuses on Asian and Pacific labour concerns. The Centre provides information, research, publishing, training, labour networking and related services to trade unions, pro-labour groups and other relevant NGOs in the region. AMRC’s main goal is to support democratic and independent labour movements in Asia and the Pacific.

The complete report for India can be downloaded here.  The detailed report portrays the situation of six Asian countries namely China, India, Cambodia, Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia.This report shows the extent of the problem. Let us  hope it will draw public attention to this senseless massacre of workers across the country.