Impasse Overcome by Indian Protests
A long running attempt by former asbestos miners from Rajasthan to obtain compensation for asbestos-related injuries has progressed to the next stage after high-profile protests (dharnas) held in December and January in Jhadole and Ahmedabad.1 The most recent demonstration, which ended yesterday (January 6, 2011) with a government U-turn, marked an escalation not only in the public profile of the workers' campaign but in the media attention being generated; twice daily radio spots were broadcast locally and nationally for one week beginning on January 2.2
The background to the recent activity goes back more than a year when 163 people3 were subjected to tests conducted by medical personnel from the National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH) in Ahmedabad. According to Journalist Anindo Dey:
while the doctors, who had conducted the tests, have published research papers confirming asbestosis on at least 93 persons, none of them have been personally given the test report even after they had applied for it under RTI (Right to Information Act).4
Indeed, correspondence from the Director of the NIOH in Ahmedabad confirms a serious case of misadministration: we are finding problems in locating these records 5 Without NIOH certificates attesting to their medical condition, the injured workers are unable to progress their compensation claims under the Workmen's Compensation Act. In the year they have been waiting to receive notification of their test results, 18 people6 have died and the health of many others has worsened. It is believed that 93 of those examined (57%) have asbestosis.
In the absence of a meaningful response by the NIOH in 2010, the Rajasthan State Mine Labor Union made futile RTI applications, appealed to judicial authorities, lodged a case with the Rajasthan High Court and petitioned the Central Information Commission. The Mines Labour Protection Campaign (MLPC) has been assisting the former asbestos mine workers for more than two years. Yesterday (January 6), Rana Sengupta, the MLPC's Managing Trustee, who took part in the dharna in Ahmedabad this week, reported the successful resolution of the demonstration. He said that assurance has been given by:
the NIOH and its parent body Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) to constitute a committee of experts and scientists to re-examine the former asbestos workers in the next 7-10 days. Apart from the assurance of doing the medical examination of the workers, parallel efforts would be made for obtaining the reports of Dr. S. K Dave on the list of 93 suspected asbestosis cases. For the time being the health camps will help secure relief to those suffering. The district administration at Udaipur (Rajasthan) has agreed to extend all necessary support for this.
January 7, 2011
1 From December 4 to December 10, 2010, protesting workers conducted a hunger strike in front of the offices of a judicial authority in Jhadole. The strike was temporarily called off when two people were taken to hospital.
2 According to Rana Sengupta of the Mine Labour Protection Campaign, appeals for support broadcast by the Mine Workers' Union were in Hindi and were heard at FM 201.1 (Jodhpur) at 10:35 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. and 531 kHz (India) between 7 8 a.m. and at 3 p.m.
3 Another report suggests the group size was 164 people.
4 Dey A. Asbestosis Victims: Dharna. January 2, 2011.
5 Letter written by Dr. Vishwa Mohan Katoch, Secretary to the Government of India, Indian Council of Medical Research to Dr. P. K. Nag, Director National Institute of Occupational Health, Ahmedabad, India. January 6, 2011.
6 There is some confusion over the number of fatalities; one report says that 18 have died other information suggests that 19 have died.