Mine workers in India live a life of poverty and poor health due to lack of safety arrangements. . Since 1994, GRAVIS has been a leader in advocating for the health rights of these laborers. Let’s take a look at both the progress made and challenges of creating change.
History of Mining in India
Mine workers are not organized and arguably as a result, they are subject to poor working conditions that compromise their safety and health. Mining is one of the most dangerous occupations in the country, with one mine worker dying every ten days. Some of those hazards include risks to physical safety, malnourished, and breathing in toxins.
Jodhpur’s world-renowned sandstone propelled mining to the second most prominent occupation in Rajasthan following agriculture. GRAVIS estimates the state produces 10 percent of the world’s sandstone and provides 70 percent of India’s output of the material. As a result, GRAVIS approximates that 3 million people are employed by the mines in Rajasthan.
According to the GRAVIS’ publication, “Future of Preventing Silicosis,” workers supplying the labor in Jodhpur’s sandstone mining district are minimally educated, and thus have limited options for employment.
Results from a survey conducted in 2014, show 10 percent of mine workers are educated above grade 10, with the other 90 percent obtaining an education ranging from illiterate up to grade 10.
Another survey featured in “Silico-tuberculosis: Burdening Lives of Miners, stated only 0.8 percent of respondents questioned worked in the mines due to interest alone. The rest of the participants were employed in the mining sector due to a combination of reasons including proximity and no other jobs available.
The Mines Act of 1952 established rules and regulations for factories and mining industries such as inspections guidelines, disability compensation, and limits on work hours. The laws were meant to protect workers and hold mine owners accountable for their employees’ safety. However, the laws are not enforced and many employees don’t know they exist, according to GRAVIS.
In the mining village of Kali Beri, former mine workers Bansi Lal, Bheekha Ram, and Tara Chand, have all been diagnosed with the fatal lung disease silicosis. It’s contracted from inhaling the carcinogen crystalline silicia dust which is released when minerals such as those in sandstone are broken down. Breathing in the dust causes irreversible scaring to the lung tissue according to the “Future of Preventing Silicosis.”
Through a translator, the men explained they are having trouble breathing and that their lungs are being constantly pressurized.
The disease has rendered those disabled and left them biding their time, they said.
“As of right now they are sitting idle and sleeping for the whole time,” the men said through a translator.
GRAVIS is working with the men along with other mine workers who have silicosis and their families to receive payout from the government. Laborers who’ve contracted the disease are entitled to one lakh or the equivalent of about $1,500. Family members of the deceased are eligible to receive the equivalent of 3 lakh or the equivalent of about $5,000, according to GRAVIS.
An estimated 500,000 miners in the state of Rajasthan alone are exposed to silica dust on a regular basis. An estimated 41 percent of those workers have silicosis, according to GRAVIS.
Contracting silicosis can result in a significantly reduced lifespan. To that end, GRAVIS estimates many mine workers who develop the disease die before their 50th birthdays.
Dr Radheshyam Chaturvedi who works in a GRAVIS–run hospital near Jodhpur said he’s seen many silicosis patients die in their 40’s.
“As the immune power is reducing, people get fever, blood, vomiting, cough and then chest pain and loss of weight. Now, day by day, they keep getting weak and sick and then one day it costs death of that patient,” Chaturvedi said through a translator.
GRAVIS conducts workshops to teach about the basics of first aid while providing information about safety precautions such as wearing airtight masks and utilizing wet and not dry drilling.
Still, the precautions aren’t regularly enforced and followed, Chaturvedi said.
“People are not following safety measures, they don’t wear helmets. They don’t wear masks. They don’t wear shoes, and because of the dry drilling, stone cutting, they inhale the sand silica,” Chaturvedi and a GRAVIS translator said. “If they are using a mask, then there are reduced chances of having silicosis. If person is not working with safety, and he is not having a mask, then directly silica can deposit in the lungs.”
Chaturvedi advocates that safety regulations need to be posted in a prominent place for miners to view.
“This should be compulsory because many of the mine workers are educated and they can read,“ he said through a translator.
Proper safety precautions might have prevented the deaths of Bhagwati Devi’s husband and son, former miners who both died of silicosis, she said. Bhagwati came to a GRAVIS-facilitated conference on miner’s rights in Jodhpur to express her frustration on the lack of government payout.
Changing behaviors in the mining industry is slow process, according to GRAVIS, as it continues its outreach to save miners lives, advocate for their families and provide new options to their children.
* by Laura Michels, Volunteer