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Special Correspondent

BHOPAL: Finding rehabilitation for Silicosis sufferers almost non-existent on ground and the fatal disease spreading to newer districts in a report submitted to it, the Supreme Court on Monday took a stern view of the ‘slumbering attitude’ of MP government and asked it to file its reply on the report within a week.

The Supreme Court’s serious observation on MP government came during hearing of public interest litigation (PIL) on Silicosis filed by NGO Silicosis Peedit Sangh.

The bench of Justices Rohinton Fali Nariman and Pinaki Chandra Ghose expressed displeasure at failure of the MP government to file its reply within two weeks as directed. The government was given another week – till May 8 to file the reply.

Meanwhile, the Director General of Mines Safety (DGMS) filed affidavits in SC confirming that there are a total of 44,155 mines across 36 states where 2,35,447 workers are at risk of silicosis.

The Court had appointed an Investigation Committee to assess the overall situation of silicosis workers in Madhya Pradesh. The Investigation Committee headed by Dr H N Saiyed and other members Dr H G Sadhu,  Amulya Nidhi and Shamarukh Mehra, submitted their investigation report to the Court.

The Investigation Report reveals a deplorable situation of silicosis affected workers with the MP government remaining ineffective in medical management and rehabilitation of the ailing patients.

The investigation team carried out ground enquiry. The report discloses that though a number of affidavits of the MP government claim that medical management, compensation and rehabilitation have been provided to silicosis patients in Alirajpur, Dhar and Jhabua districts; in reality, none of these benefits have reached the victims. Most rehabilitation data exist mainly on paper, the report says.

The Investigation Committee confirmed that while 390 deceased workers are still waiting to be compensated by Gujarat government, another 1359 ailing patients are struggling without any effective rehabilitation in Alirajpur, Dhar, Jhabua, Vidisha and Panna districts of MP.

The enquiry report further confirms prevalence of silicosis among mine workers in other districts of Madhya Pradesh, namely Panna, Vidisha, Shivpuri and Indore, and the government has not taken steps to prevent, detect or rehabilitate these workers.

Silicosis has been confirmed in Betul, Ratlam, Chhindwara, Sidhi and Seoni districts too. There is widespread illegal mining in these districts and worker’s safety is grossly neglected.

None of the stone mines in the unorganised sector in Madhya Pradesh is covered under the purview of Mines Act 1952 and therefore there is no legal provision to ensure the workers’ safety, health and welfare, the report mentions.

Senior Advocate Prashant Bhushan, arguing for the petitioner Silicosis Peedit Sangh, pointed out how Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) has conducted hurried inspection of the erring quartz crushing factories of Gujarat, where workers had contracted the fatal disease.

GPCB’s inspection reports show that they had visited 30 factories spread across multiple talukas in 3 districts in just 12 hours.  A close look into GPCB’s visit reports shows that the inspection officer seems to have travelled distances of 70 km in mere 15 minutes, and completed inspection of a factory, the counsel claimed.

The Court has directed the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) to urgently look into this matter.

Silicosis Peedit Sangh, in their affidavits, provided status of silicosis in other states too, namely Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Telangana, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and Karnataka too. (File Photo)