Compiled by: Priyanka Jain and Santosh Poonia (based on Aajeevika Bureau, Dunu Roy, Kotda Adivasi Sansthan and Pathar Gadhai Mazdoor Suraksha Sangh’s inputs)
The thrust of the Silicosis response policy in Rajasthan needs to urgently shift from identification and compensation of victims to prevention and control, with industry regulation as the central, entry point into the policy.
Following are the policy demands from our group of workers, activists, lawyers, doctors and engineers who have been working on the ground to bring safety to the Silicosis-prone temple-building industry in Pindwara, Sirohi, Rajasthan (these policy insights have been framed broadly, to extend to the ground realities of other stone related industries of Rajasthan such as mining, stone crushing etc that are also proven to be silicosis-prone).
- Launch state-wide mapping exercise to identify Silicosis prone industries.
- The mapping should include both upstream industry activities such as mining, and also the downstream activities such as processing, crushing, carving etc used for various industrial and consumer purposes. A thorough methodology should start with identifying silica-rich stones and then tracking their production value chains. Such a starting-point would ensure that any industries that remain unidentified can be brought under review.
- Industries (both upstream and downstream) that have been identified through the value chain tracking should be checked for Silicosis prevalence through health screenings of workers. Where high prevalence is found, industries should be notified and included in the last of hazardous or dangerous activities under relevant Acts such as Factories Act.
- The exercise should include an estimation of the workforce of the notified industries. This would require household surveys in the catchment areas of where the workforce resides, feasible especially where workforce is local. (Note: depending solely on official data of registered workers would lead to a severe underestimation of workforce, as most of the stone related industries identified so far as Silicosis hotspots in Rajasthan, have a large segment of informal workforce that remain unregistered).
- Map and develop list of factories and units within the notified industry through a mapping exercise, including data points such as no. of workers, readings on dust levels, registration details and employer contact details. These mapping and estimation exercises are critical because lack of information on industries and workforce severely limits ability to roll-out effective implementation of policies. Civil society organizations in Rajasthan have developed well-tested survey and mapping tools for such activities, which can be used as samples and references.
- The data generated through these exercises should be centralized and managed by the state level Silicosis Programme, but should be shared with local levels of administration too for evidence based implementation in a decentralized manner.
2. Once an industry is notified as hazardous or dangerous under relevant acts such as the Factories Act, all units would mandatorily need to be registered (information from industry mapping exercise would facilitate its implementation).
3. Based on total workforce in notified industries, State government needs to provide for adequate number of Factory and Safety inspectors (using a ratio such as 1 inspector for 1000 workers). Ensure regular inspection of factories for compliance with safety and pollution standards, including well-developed, industry specific norms such as: (i) use of dust-control technologies to keep dust levels under safe levels; (ii) compliance with guidelines on factory floor practices or work stations required for reduction of exposure of dust to worker; (iii) regular training and support provided by employer to worker on use of safety measures adopted by the unit; and (iv) use of closed-loop system to ensure that the captured dust is not disposed off untreated, leading to pollution of surrounding ecosystem.
4. Provide for progressive but strict punitive action such as heavy fines and closure of factories in case of violations. Authorize Labour Inspectors to invoke first level punitive measures, and progressively authorize authorities such as District Health Officer and Labour Commission to order closure of factory for gross violations with safety and pollution standards. (Note: industry compliance with safety of often treated by policy with an incentive-based approach. The punitive measures remain unclear and inadequate. Instead, a stricter system using punitive measures are needed for industry compliance is required for effective prevention and control of Pneumoconiosis diseases).
5. Provisions should be made to allow trade unions, workers, advocates and NGOs to file complaints against units that violate safety provisions to the Labour Department’s Grievance Cell, invoking the process of factory inspection for safety and pollution control.
6. Another strategy for ensuring industry compliance with safety standards is to remove barriers to employer provided compensation under Workmen Compensation Act. The biggest barrier to filing cases under WCA is the ability of workers to establish employer-employee relationship given the irregular and undocumented manner of employment in such industries. Notifying the industry as hazardous or dangerous would also imply that employer must maintain records of all workers including on-roll and contractual workers (such as daily-wage or other non-regular workers). Spot assessments and other strategies need to be used by inspectors to ensure that records are maintained and workers are not kept off-books.
7. For hazardous industries, piece-rate system of payment needs to be urgently prohibited. The system creates a perverse incentive for poor workers to resort to production methods that are faster, cheaper and dirtier, to increase their meagre incomes. One of the strategies to control this practice is for employers to reflect payment made to workers in their records, including any work that has been sub-contracted out.
8. Inclusion as notified industry would also help to curtail the wide-spread industry practice of sub-letting and sub-contracting. These practices dilute employer accountability by outsourcing hazardous work to informal, unregistered units where safety standards can be violated in absence of laws and by falling out of the scope of all regulatory bodies. Inclusion as notified industry would imply that principal employers can sub-let work only to units that are registered and comply to safety standards. This would decrease the incentive for sub-contracting itself, reducing fragmentation of workforce, making regulation and enforcement feasible.
9. To further strengthen these structural changes in hazardous industries (that are expected to have a positive impact on safety compliance), the state legislature should debate on the possibility of holding principal employers as well as the industry segments that hazardous industries supply to (such as sanitary ware manufacturing industry that procures stone powder from Beawar, and temple trusts that procure stone carving work from Sirohi) legally responsible for violations of safety standards in their supply chains. This would ensure that the onus of dust-control is shared by large employers, companies and establishments. These segments should bear the costs of shifting the industry to cleaner practices, reducing the burden on small employers and contractors down the sub-contractual chain, who typically operate on smaller margins and are cost-sensitive.
10. Industries notified as hazardous should be strictly required to conduct 6-monthly employer provided medical check-up (as required by the Factories Act for example). The policy must place the onus of early identification and cure on employers.
- A SOP should be developed by the Pneumoconiosis Board for such check-ups,(suitable for early identification) including lung function tests and chest X-rays.
- The doctors hired by the employer for such a medical check-up should have appropriate qualifications such as the 3-month course of Associate Fellow of Industrial Health or a specialized training in occupational health (could be provided by the state Silicosis programme to ensure availability of well-trained MOs for such check-ups).
- The state level Pneumoconiosis programme to develop an online, data management system (categorized by notified industry), where employers should be required to upload the results from medical screenings on this system. This would also provide updated data on prevalence and help assess if disease control strategies are proving to be effective.
- Finally, strategies and avenues should be developed for the costs of treatment (including transportation) of early signs of Silicosis should be borne by the employer (and not deducted from worker’s salary).
11. In case of downstream activities such as stone crushing and carving, the hazardous production activity is being conducted in and around rural residential areas. Strategies should be developed to ensure safe distance of production activities from residential areas.
 Similar to the District Health Officers authority to close down restaurants for violating hygiene standards.
Rajasthan is the most responsive state in the country with respect to identification and compensation of Silicosis victims, having certified about 1961 persons with Silicosis and released about Rs. 40 crores as compensation. But this is just the tip of the iceberg as over 13,000 certifications remain pending with the state and lakhs of workers are still lining up for screenings across the state (see Rajasthan Silicosis Portal here for details).
The Silicosis epidemic in Rajasthan is far from over and it cannot be solved through compensation of victims. It is neither fiscally sustainable, nor can 5 lakhs of rupees cannot compensate for a highly, preventable death of a young worker and the devastation it causes to the family. The policy emphasis in Rajasthan needs to drastically shift towards prevention and control of Silicosis in its stone related industries. However, this agenda is not possible to advance without strictest regulation of industries involving hazardous processes of unsafe exposure levels of workers to silica dust.
The policy orientation vis-a-vis Silicosis needs to realign from ‘worker’ to ‘industry’, and from ‘notified disease’ to ‘notified industry’. What does this mean? Silicosis is a ‘notified disease’ under the Rajasthan Epidemic Diseases Act of 1957, which acknowledges the fatal and pervasive nature of the disease in the state. Yet, the industries and production processes due to which workers contract this untreatable disease, such as stone-carving for temple-construction, are not notified as ‘hazardous’ under relevant acts such as the Factories Act of 1948.
In the current policy and governance paradigm, the onus is hugely on the worker to cope with the governance machinery’s constraints and requirements – its immense paperwork and delays, in order to prove that he/she has a notified disease (through a certificate from the Pneumoconiosis board). The burden of proof lies on the worker to demonstrate through the process that he or she in fact have the disease and have all right registrations (such as with BoCW or in Rajathan Silicosis Portal) to be eligible for relief and compensation. Meanwhile, there is no onus on industry for early detection, treatment or compensation of victims. Moreover, they continue enjoying impunity over non-compliance with safety standards.
As the state response machinery advances, these burdens need to urgently shift from ‘notified disease’ to ‘notified industries’, such that the latter have the liability for safety, prevention of disease, early detection of disease among its workforce and bearing the costs of treatment. On the other hand, administrative requirements that sick and poor workers have to go through to access relief and compensation needs to reduce with industry’s responsibility kicking in as soon as workers shows early signs of Silicosis. The policy framework above suggests pathways to do this.
Silicosis cannot be controlled without strictest industry regulation. This in turn is complicated by the free reign industry has been given to deepen perverse practices such as moving away from standard forms of employment towards irregular and temporary employment; of sub-contracting dirty work to small, home-based units; of keeping workers off-the book. All of these structural features of the labour market deepen the occupational health crisis facing the workforce. These features hugely inhibit the state’s ability to regulate industries, which have gone a long way in fragmenting the workforce and production processes, making them ungovernable.
Ability to regulate for safety or any other labour right is further put in doldrums by systematic hollowing out of regulatory bodies such as the Factory and Safety department, Pollution Control Board etc. In such an ecosystem, control and prevention of Silicosis is not possible without a concerted effort to identify hazardous industries and use policy as a tool to curtail practices and correct structural features that are obstructive to safety and health of workers.
In summary, prevention and control of Silicosis in Rajasthan’s stone related industries require a policy commitment and investment in:
(1) Mapping of hazardous industries including upstream and downstream segments (including data collection on total workforce, nature and scale of each industry);
(2) Including silicosis-prone industries and production processes found through the mapping exercise as ‘hazardous’ under the Factories Act (or other relevant acts), bringing all its units under regulatory ambit (irrespective of unit size);
(3) Use the data collected on workforce in hazardous industries to provide for adequate no. of factory inspectors at the state level (1000 workers to 1 inspector ratio) for regular inspections; and finally but very importantly;
(4) Instead of incentivizing industry to shift into cleaner practices, use progressively strong and strict measures of heavy penalties, revocation of license, closures of facility and jail terms for repeated and gross violations of safety and health standards;
(5) If trade unions, workers, advocates, NGOs to file complaints in the Labour Department’s Grievance Cell against any factory or unit for violations of safety standards, immediatedly invoke the factory inspection process;
(6) Remove barriers that workers face in filing legal cases against employers (through WCA, ESI etc) due to lack of documentation establishing employer-employee relationship through spot assessments and factory inspections of employee records;
(7) Identifying legal and policy avenues to restrict labour market and industry practices such as piece rate payment and sub-contracting;
(8) Developing standardised protocols for employer-provided medical check-ups in these industries which ensure that doctors trained in occupational health check workers for relevant diseases through lung function tests, X-rays etc making it harder for them to circumvent accountability through unrelated and generic medical check-ups for headache and stomach aches;
(9) Use the digitisation euphoria in the country to ensure that hazardous industries submit the records from the medical check ups for early detection of disease to a centralized, state-level data used to monitor changes in prevalence of disease in the industry (but make the data available across state machinery for decentralized implementation); and
(10) Ensure that the policy orientation does not criminalize and penalize the small employers and petty contractors lying at the bottom of the value chain, but find legal and policy avenues to shift costs and liability to big industry players (such as big sanitary ware producers that procure stone powder from Beawar’s small stone crushing factories; or rich religious trusts and temple societies that procure articles from small, home-based stone carving units in Pindwara) for adopting cleaner practices in their supply chain.
These policy changes might seem overwhelming. But analysis of the compensation burden on Rajasthan state government reveals that policy change is actually the easier route. The Rajasthan Silicosis Portal’s district-wise summary report shows that 5327 certified victims are still to receive their due compensation. This amounts to a whopping figure of Rs. 266 crores (based on a total relief package of Rs. 5 lakh per victim), in addition to the Rs. 40 crores that have been disbursed recently.
This Rs. 266 crore figure does not even include the compensation of Rs. 3 lakh due to the families of around 1900 certified persons, which will become due when the victims die (which will unfortunately be soon).
Moreover, over 14,000 are already registered in the portal and are pending screenings. Lakhs of workers across the state are lining up to register on the portal and go through the screening process. So the compensation burden on the state is piling fast, looking to run into a over thousand crore of Rupees within the term of the current Ghelot government (unless the government halts the screening and certification process to avoid these liabilities)!
It is undeniable that it is much much cheaper, wiser and humane to go through with the policy changes and seriously regulate hazardous industries.
To support the initiative to prevent Silicosis among temple-carvers, see here.