Mid-Day: New Delhi: Friday, 19 September 2014.
The Maharashtra government seems to care little about the lives of the poor industrial labourers even as it gloats about the state’s economic clout. Neither the government nor their employers have bothered to give compensation or medical help to the first 13 confirmed cases of deadly occupational diseases like silicosis, asbestosis, and toxic nephritis reported across the state.
These labourers, who worked at factories in Kalyan, Raigad and Ratnagiri, are struggling to carry on with their lives amidst deteriorating health and hope, even as the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has taken note of a mid-day investigation highlighting their plight.
The latest health audits of the workers obtained by mid-day under RTI show that four of them, in Raigad’s Dhatav village, are suffering from ‘end-stage’ renal disease, four others have been diagnosed with toxic nephritis, and five are suffering from asbestosis.
All of them are undergoing dialysis and other medical treatments without any help from their employers or the government. Activists and experts fear the worst for these workers if they are not given help at the earliest.
“There are hundreds of cases in which workers are suspected of having asbestosis, but the certifying surgeons never confirm these. The contract workers then languish for years, awaiting compensation from the government or factory owners.
Our organisation fought for one such woman worker for ten years in the 90s, but she succumbed to her disease without getting any compensation,” said S Shekhar, a Mumbai-based activist fighting for the rights of factory workers suffering from asbestosis.
A mid-day investigation (‘Danger, factory ahead’/ ‘They lied to me for 15 years of my life, says asbestosis-afflicted labourer’), which appeared on July 21, had revealed how 13 cases of industrial diseases had been reported in Mumbai and the surrounding regions. This was the first time that industrial diseases had been reported in Maharashtra and they had come to light after an inspection was carried out by a Gujarat-based Central agency. mid-day had also reported how Yogesh Sawant, a worker who was being exposed to asbestos on a daily basis and was repeatedly assured by factory owners and doctors that everything was fine, had been diagnosed with asbestosis by the National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH). Sawant and Manoj Saroj, from the same unit in Kalyan, turned out to be the first confirmed cases of asbestosis in Maharashtra.
Sawant continues to live in neglect at his Kalyan home, and is forced to pay his own medical bills. Following the mid-day story, he was approached by the factory owner for treatment and taken to various hospitals for check-ups, but he hasn’t been paid any monetary compensation. Officials from the state’s Directorate of Industrial Safety & Health (DISH) also approached him, promising help, but to no avail.
“I have been taken to one hospital after another in Mumbai, but they are not giving me a clear picture of how my health is or whether I will get my compensation. This only looks like an attempt to hush-up my case so that no compensation has to be paid,” Sawant told mid-day.
The four workers diagnosed with toxic nephritis have to undergo dialysis twice a week. Certifying surgeons reported that 32-year-old Mangesh Malusare was a patient of end-stage renal disease. “He was working as a contract worker at a chemical plant in Ratnagiri for more than eight years.
He complained of loss of appetite and uneasiness, and was diagnosed with grade 3 renal parenchymal disease. He has been on dialysis since and, being a contract worker, no treatment facility or compensation was provided to him,” said Dr Parag Gaiki in his report.
Gaiki told mid-day that the seriousness of this particular “matter” cannot be ignored. “We need to conduct fresh inspections and see if there is any improvement in the condition of these four workers at all,” he said.
Gaiki had inspected a unit at Dhatav in Raigad district last year and diagnosed Dhanaji Khandekar, 39, Bharat Lad, 38, Suresh Chavan, 57, and Malusare with acute toxic nephritis.
“Most of them were exposed to hazardous chemicals regularly for 7-8 years. When we conducted a check-up, they were found with high blood urea and creatinine as high as 20 mg/dl,” said Gaiki in his report.
Four others detected with silicosis are all contract workers at a unit in MIDC, Ratnagiri. They are 45-year-old Pravin Shinde, Pandurang Juwle (45), Uday Pawar (39) and Amarjeet Rajbhar (39).
“These cases were found during my inspection at the scouring department of the factory, where there was clear presence of crystalline silica dust,” said Dr Vaishali Jadhav, who had conducted the inspection in March 2014.