January 31, 2013—Some 2.5 million mine workers in Rajasthan, India, will now be covered by worker compensation for job-related illnesses and injuries, a victory that stems from a multiyear campaign by safety and health advocates. The decision this week by the state of Rajasthan, in northwest India, also provides compensation to widows of miners who died from silicosis and creates a structure for improved safety standards.
The Rajasthan-based Mine Labor Protection Campaign (MLPC) is a member of the Asian Network for the Rights of Occupational and Environmental Victims (ANROEV), a Solidarity Center partner comprised of trade unions, worker rights organizations and occupational safety and health activists from across the region. MLPC pushed for monetary relief for silicosis victims and their families and demanded the government develop a list of Rajasthan’s 30,000 mines. Only 3,706 mines are registered with the Department of Mines, making it impossible to ensure mine safety, according to the MLPC.
Because the central government oversees the regulatory agency on mine safety, these new standards ultimately will apply to the entire country, according to the MLPC.
Silicosis, an occupational lung disease caused by inhalation of crystalline silica dust, is incurable—but it is also preventable. In 2006, the National Human Rights Commission declared silicosis an important health problem in India and began accepting complaints on silicosis.
The director general of mine safety will now issue notices to 27,000 mine owners, asking them to update their information within three months or face action. According to the Hindustan Times, the mine safety director general said if the mine owners did not give information about the workers, they would be prosecuted after an inspection of the mines. The agreement also establishes hospital facilities for diagnosing silicosis, which for many years was not correctly diagnosed, according to the Times of India.
Most of India’s miners are internal migrants—people forced by poverty, drought, famine or failed crops to take up this difficult and sometimes deadly job. Ninety-eight percent of miners are tribal or Dalit (belonging to the so-called untouchable class), which places them among the most marginalized of India’s poor, systematically deprived of decent wages and social service support.
This victory follows on the heels of an August 2012 announcement by the Gujarat state government that the heirs of agate workers who die as a result of silicosis be compensated through an insurance scheme. The People’s Training and Research Center, another ANROEV partner, helped secure this protection for workers and their families.