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Silicosis swallows mine workers in Rajasthan

Karauli (Rajasthan): For 10 years, Ghanshyam underwent treatment for tuberculosis (TB) as his persistent coughing and chest pain refused to go away. But in 2011, the stone quarry worker was told that he is in

Updated on: August 17, 2014 11:46 IST
At present there are 244 registered silicosis patients in Karauli, but Bhardwaj says their numbers run into thousands.

"At least 13,000 mine workers have got themselves registered with the Dang Vikas Sansthan. All have pain in their chests and want to be diagnosed for silicosis," Bhardwaj said.

The nearest Pneumoconiosis Board centre for patients in Karauli is located in Jaipur, around 200 km away. The other six are situated in far-flung areas of Rajasthan.

For patients like Mishra Lal, whose name figures last in the list of 13,000 suspected patients, their wait to get diagnosed at the Jaipur centre means that they will possibly have to wait for 27 years, according to Varun Sharma, programme coordinator at the Association for Rural Advancement through Voluntary Action and Local Involvement (ARAVALI).

"And by that time he would have died. The Pneumoconiosis board centre in Jaipur can see only 40 people in a week which works out to 480 cases in a year," Sharma told IANS.

Established by the Rajasthan government, ARAVALI is working in collaboration with the Dang Vikas Sansthan in the livelihood sector.

Rajendra Kumar Jenaw, superintendent of the TB hospital in Jaipur, says that staff at Pneumoconiosis board centres is inadequate to examine cases of silicosis.

"We lack the wherewithal to screen silicosis patients all the time. The government must set up a dedicated centre for this disease," Jenaw told IANS.

Another reason why silicosis goes undetected is the illegal operation of thousands of mines.

"The number of stone mines operating in Rajasthan is much more than the official figure of 32,000. The workers in these unlicensed mines are not covered under the Mines Act 1952," Sharma added.

The Mines Act lays down certain safety procedures for mine workers.

Sharma says that since many of these mines lie away from major roads and habitations, the mining officials often don't conduct checks.

Silicosis has pushed the families of mine workers into further poverty, with the breadwinners over time turning into a health burden.

To support Ghanshyam and his family, his 20-year-old son Ravi has inherited the legacy of becoming a mine worker.

"I work for 12 to 13 hours every day in the nearby mine. Sometimes my chest starts paining," Ravi told IANS.