A Death Trap For
Agate Workers In Gujarat
By PUCL Gujarat
01 November, 2007
AN ENQUIRY REPORT BY
Workers working in the agate
industries are dying of silicosis in regular interval for last 40 years
in Khambhat. Families are wiped out totally. But there is no respite
from the death trap of economically impoverished people of this area.
The agate industry, is a
household industry in the Khambhat region of Gujarat and its surrounding
villages, employs over 30,000 people, many of them are women. The process
of agate goes through mining, drying, frying, grinding, polishing Agate
stones are made into beads by heating, chipping, grinding, drilling,
and polishing them for use in jewelry and other decorative items. Mineral
dust, especially silica produced during the stone grinding, causes pneumoconiosis
tuberculosis, bronchitis, emplysema, pneumonitis, and other respiratory
effects. Mining and cutting of stone produces silica dusts and prolonged
exposure causes silicosis among workers. Silicosis (also known as Grinder's
disease and Potter's rot) is a form of occupational lung disease caused
by inhalation of crystalline silica dust, and is marked by inflammation
and scarring in forms of nodular lesions in the upper lobes of the lungs.
The workers were crushing
the agate manually prior to 1960. The polishing [P1] machines run by
electrical produced more finished product but ironically became a fatal
factor because it produced more silica dust causing silicosis. Though
more finished products made it a profiteering industry the exhaust system
have not been installed or has not become mandatory for the manufacturer
to reduce the inhalation of silica dust, one of the most important preventive
steps to save the workers from silicosis.
The colours of the agate
may mesmerize us but it takes away the colours of the lives of the workers
and family. Gujarat is very proud of the agate industry but has never
paid any attention to the workers those who are waiting for the death
The Silicosis Pidit Sangathan(
Silicosis Victim Association) of Khambhat drew the attention of PUCL
towards the plight of the workers in Agate ( Akik) industries in Khambhat,
where the workers are drawn into the death trap and dying of Silicosis
for last 5 decades. - In 2006 12 died in Shakarpur village. 13 [P2]
died in 2007. It is a matter of concern that the [P3] plight of the
helpless workers drawn into the death trap has gone unheeded. by the
Governments , both State and the Central.
Several memorandums had been
submitted to the concerned authorities but with out any results. Many
media had also highlighted the menaces of Silicosis. Ironically, the
Govt. of India gave away a national award to a documentary film on Silicosis
named 'Way to dusty death'. [P4]
A fact-finding team of PUCL
with Sh. Gautam Thaker, General Secretary, PUCL, Gujarat Chapter, Sh.
Dwarikanath Rath, Sh. Dhiru Mistry, members, PUCL went to Sakharpur
of Khambhat to conduct inquiry on 29/9/07. Sh. Jagdish Patel who is
working among the Akik workers and running a People's Training and Research
Center helped the fact finding team along with his team mate Sri JayeshPramar
and Ramesh Makwan. [P5]
Khambhat is one of the ancient
ports in India known for trade and commerce
from the period of Harrapan civilization and the it is believed that
agate industry is some thing 2500 years old in this area.
The agate industry was prevalent
in many parts of Gujarat. But with the passage of time Khmbhat has remained
the only centre of Agate grinding keeping the thousands years of it's
Mines for agate are available
at Zhagadia. The Agate grinding industry runs in Khambhat, Sakarpur,
Metpur, Vadhwa . About 30,000 workers are directly involved in these
industries and 70% belong to OBC and Muslims
The polished material per
piece is sold at the price of Re1/ in local market. Where as the price
is Rs 2 to 2.50 in Ajmer.Most of the agate grinding is a part of out
sourcing business. The finished products are sold at higher prices and
exported to many foreign countries. The agate is one of the most profiteering
trades. It is with the Ministry of Commerce ,Indian Jem and jewelers
Promotion Council.. Both the Govt. and the businessmen earn huge amount
of money out of the agate industry but they care least to take care
of the workers those who are pushed to the death trap because of acute
poverty and unemployment.
Agates is chiefly used to
make ornaments such as pins, brooches, paper knives, inkstands, and
seals. Because of its hardness and ability to resist acids, agate is
used to make mortars and pestles to crush and mix chemicals. Because
of the high polish possible with agate it has been used for centuries
for leather burnishing tools.
On entering the Shakarpur,
the PUCL team was surprised to find the dust of Silica have touched
and covered the cable of electricity wire of the power supply. The roads,
the walls were covered by the powder of Silica.
The team visited the places
where workers are polishing [P6] the agate in the village of Shikarpur.
The team met their families, discussed with group of workers in the
office of Silicosis Pidit Sangathan. and collected the first hand information
about their livelihood, working environment, wages, health aspects.
The team members went to
the house of one worker Pratapbhai Gohil. He had just been discharged
from Khambat General Hospital. after drawing fluid from his lungs. He
was in his skeleton, could hardly speak. The photograph will speak itself
about his condition. He was admitted in the hospital for 10 days and
treated for silica tuberculosis [P7] . It was no wonder that he died
on last 2nd October. This is just one case of chronic [P8] Silicosis.
There are so many patients
here and there, waiting for death. We also visited the house of the
patient suffering from silicosis both men and women. We came across
houses where all the family members are engaged in polishing the agate
and inhaling the silica. The children are not free from this But we
were shocked to learn that no measures have been taken by the Government
to save these workers from this deadly Silicosis. Last year, 12 workers
died out of Silicosis. This year, already,13 workers have died. by month
of October. Those who are working in Agate industry, they lose their
resistance power. They inhale the Silica dust which goes directly to
the lungs. Tuberculosis and Bronchitis are very ordinary diseases among
workers. But Silicosis is irreversible disease and it takes 6 to 7 years
to get infected by Silicosis. The facts of Silicosis menace among the
workers have been suppressed by traders, employers and Government machineries
The workers treated in the hospitals are never or hardly. diagnosed
as silicosis. Though all know that the workers has been infected of
silicosis but on record it is hardly recognized. by the Govt. . In apprehension
of losing jobs, the workers themselves hide their infections.
The Factory Act usually applies
where there are five workers but we are astonished to find that no Factory
Acts is [P9] implemented here. Moreover the proposed one man Factory
Act will be a direct attack on the workers those operating from their
home and a concession for the traders. The Govt. of Gujarat has already
abolished the inspection of the industries.. There is only one Factory
Inspector for whole of district of Anand and the inspector seldom visit
the area. As a matter of fact there is a shortage of 40% factory inspectors
in the state.
In course of our visit at
some place we reached the workers house during their lunch hour. The
workers did not hesitate to invite all of us to join them in their lunch.
But we were taken aback to come across the low calories food intake
where as they need most nutritious food. The lack of nutritious is one
of the cause that they are loosing their resistance power.
The workers engaged in agate
industry work under a manufacture and most of the workers work in his
own house, where the entire family members are also engaged. Those who
work in the factory and those work in the house meet the same fate of
Silicosis. The workers grinding in the house goes to the traders at
the end of the day to sell the agate and collect the money which is
. is very vital for the sustenance of the family.
Nowhere in the world the
workers may be joining this kind of deadly agate industry knowing fully
well that he or she is in queue to die as his predecessors had died
out of silicosis. The compulsion of the helpless youths reveals the
gravity of poverty. Here death is inevitable and once one enters the
grinding the agate there is no escape and one can just see the incoming
death every momentum every day. This type ruthless compulsion for workers
and their family members is very difficult to comprehend. It gives an
idea of the workers working in medieval time and the early period of
Industrial Revolution devoid of any Human Rights and the dignity to
life. There is jungle law and the workers are free to die and the traders
are free to exploit with the indifference attitude of the Govt. and
One of the noted writers
of Gujarat Late Sri Dilip Ranpura in 1995 was very shocked to come across
the workers in Shakarpur village. He was shocked to find a youth with
a B.Com degree had joined the agate crushing knowing fully well that
he had lost his brother, sister-in-law, sisters, and the children of
his brothers. On being asked he said he had no option. It is the state
of affair in the entire area. In one family in ten years eleven members
died. This vicious circle of death is continuing for years.
Being shocked the fact finding
team of PUCL tried to probe the state of affair of agate and fatal silicosis
and available materials from different sources to give a first hand
information and draw the attention of the respective authorities to
The problem of Silicosis
was first detected in the study taken up by Industrial Toxicology Research
Centre ( ITRC), Lucknow in 1980. The report of ITRC appeared in press.
A public interest petition was filed in Gujarat High Court. The High
Court Set up an inquiry commission. The National Institute of Occupational
Health(NIOH), as a part of inquiry commission, carried out a survey.
They installed exhaust system to measure the dust level which was very
fruitful. NIOH submitted report to the High Court but no action has
been taken. NIOH carried out an environmental epidemiological study
during 1999-2004. It also studied the Silica dust in the environment
and recommended the exhaust system with better design. The study has
conclusively shown that it is the serious major environmental problem.
As the workers are directly exposed to deadly Silica dust. Not only
workers, but their family members including children are also affected.
Many times we see mother polishing the agate with children in their
lap. ITRC report has shown that the small children are not free from
Silicosis. The whole air is filled with Silica dust. And the people
living in surrounding places are also not free from risk. In the recent
study, it is found that Silica also causes cancer.
The best way to prevent silicosis is to identify work-place activities
that produce crystalline silica dust and then to eliminate or control
the dust. Water spray is often used where dust emanates. Dust can also
be controlled through dry air filtering.
The exhaust system
The NIOH recommendations
of the exhaust system is deliberately ignored. The NIOH studies showed
that the main source of dust in the agate industry is the grinding process.
For the control of dust, a local exhaust system containing air-cleaning
device was developed. Evaluation of the exhaust system by dust monitoring
showed that there was 94% reduction in dust levels with the use of exhaust
system. The exhaust system did not interfere with the work and the workers
found it very useful as it facilitated the work by removing the dust,
which hampered their sight. However, the owners complained of excessive
power consumption. To reduce the power consumption without compromising
with its dust control efficacy, a dust control device incorporated in
the grinder has been developed. At present many small units have installed
this type of exhaust system
The Medical facility.
The prevalence of silicosis
in male and female agate grinders was 39.8% and 34.2% respectively.
About 19% of the male agate grinders and 22% of female agate grinders
developed silicosis within five years. The overall prevalence of tuberculosis
amongst male and female agate grinders was 37.4% and 40.3% respectively.
Pulmonary function abnormalities were found in about 51% grinders.
The mean "total"
and "respirable" dust concentrations during agate grinding
were 25.4 (14.5 - 35.1) and 2.74 (1.73 - 4.04) mg/M3 respectively, which
are much higher than the prescribed limits. The free silica contents
of the dust was 60%.
The. Shakarpur village has no primary health centre.This village has
been attached with Uddel village which is 12 kms away from Shakarpur.There
is a sub health centre with only one room.The villagers have to spend
rs.20/ towards the traveling expense and avoid to Uddel.
There is one Community Health
Centre in Khambat which is 2 kms from Shakarpur There is only one female
lady worker lady (FHW) . She is to retire and looks after pregnancy.
and a Govt. TB clinic under the TB control programme. There is no- X
Ray Machines The Distinct level TB centre is in Petelad. Official diagnosis
[P10] is never mentioned as silicosis. Safety and health is a fundamental
human rights of the workers.
.It is wrong to think that
the occupational diseases are the inevitable and there is no way out.
This very notion has been percolated purposefully to ignore the workers.
There is a lack of attitude of the Govt. as well as the traders.
The Agate industry is one
of the most profiteering for manufacturers, traders and the government.
Government earns from exports. But there is no welfare schemes for workers
and their families. The government, traders and manufacturers know very
well that the workers working in Agate industry are drawn into death
trap like the moth. But no remedial measures have been taken. The traders
are taking the advantage of the helpless conditions of poor people.
Widows and orphans are left to themselves. There is no marriage of the
victim workers. Most of The widows and the orphans are compelled to
enter the sane death trap or pushed to the abject poverty.
The Credit Trap
Workers working in Agate
industry are in debt trap. The manufacturers lure them to take loan
without interest. But, interestingly, they get less wage from manufacturers.
It means the piece rate is different from workers to take loan from
manufacturers. The workers are not free to change either the job or
employer till they fully repay the debt. The workers are scared of the
employers because of dire consequences they may face. If the workers
die, the family members are asked to repay the debt. Under the circumstances,
the family is compelled to work under the same employer.
What the we felt that, the
death is looming large in the village of Shakarpur one of the places
of agate grinding in Gujarat.All the glitters are not gold. The sparkling
agate tells a very different story, the story of anguish, pain, shock
and ruthless exploitation and the violation of basic human rights. The
so-called busy commercial life of the town Khambhat cannot conceal the
fact of silent death shadowing the near by villages.
After analyzing the situation
the PUCL team recommend the following points-
All the employees be issued
with the Identity card
Workers welfare fund be created with the aid of the Govt.and the traders.
If necessary it should be implemented with a promulgation of an act
The workers welfare fund be constituted with the representatives from
workers, traders, Govt. and the voluntary organizations and the NGOs.
The silicosis patients be treated in the PHC and issued the health card.
The Primary Health center must be opened on the spot.
The Silicosis patients be treated free of charge.
The patients dying due to silicosis are registered by the Panchayats
and the Municipal body and the death certificates be issued mentioning
the cause of the death.
The Minimum wage be declared for the workers
The food and nutrition allowance be granted to the workers.
The workers working in the Agate industries be covered under Insurance.
The Govt. should pay for the premium—The insurance should take
care of the workers –
The workers dying due to the silicosis be paid the compensation from
the Chief Minister's Relief Fund.
Anganwadi provision be made for the women agate workers with food.
The parents who have lost their sons and kith and kin be given monthly
allowance for the sustenance.
Economic assistance be given to the workers to install the Exhaust system.
The awareness campaign be taken up by the health dept on silicosis,
TB and other occupational diseases.
The loan be granted to the workers from the Workers welfare fund on
The widows of the workers died due to the silicosis be properly rehabilitated
The workers working in agate industries be given alternative training
The surviving children of the workers died due to silicosis be given
education freely and boarded in the hostels, and the orphans staying
with the guardians be given monthly allowance.
More funds should be allocated and spent for the research, awareness,
training and publications for Health & Safety at work.
Directorate Industrial Safety & Health( DISH) should have more lady
inspectors. Separate cell for Women workers need to be opened in DISH
(Directorate Industrial Safety & Health)
State Govt should come up with policy for occupational health &
safety. To implement the policy it should have adequate budget. A separate
cell within Health dept. should be set up for designing the programs
to implement the policy on OSH.
All public hospitals must have OPD for occupational diseases.
Extra efforts need to be done for increasing notification of Occ.Diseases.
:Committee -A high power committee may be formed by the Honorable Prime
Minister to look into the problems and present recommendations. Ministry
of commerce and the Gems & Jewelry Export Promotion Council has
a major role to play with Labor and Health departments.
:Preventive Law- A law which
would put responsibility on the shoulders of traders for the H &
S of the workers would go a long way in preventing Silicosis. The economic
relationship between workers, manufacturers and traders need to be changed.
Traders are investing in raw material and out source various processes,
particularly that of polishing where the hazard of silica dust poses.
In this way they get away with any responsibility. Law should hold the
traders as 'manufacturers' and not the poor workers. Here, too, implementation
strategy should be well thought or it may meet the same fate as that
of Factories Act. NGOs and workers will have to be involved in implementation
giving legal powers.
do not get any compensation for injuries at work including Silicosis.
There is no well defined employer-employee relationship. Neither are
they covered by ESI Act. In such situation until any legal reforms are
implemented Silicosis sufferers should be paid lump sum compensation
by Government. We recommend that all the victims in last 5 years be
compensated. (List of workers died of Silicosis in years 2005 &
2006 is attached herewith. The list is not comprehensive)
:Safer Technology -Since
workers are not able to invest in installing local exhaust ventilation
systems (LEV), financial help in installing the LEV may be made available
through NABARD or CAPART. Workers will have to be trained in maintenance
of the system.
Workers will have to be empowered
so that they can bear the additional electrical and maintenance cost
of the LEVs.
Provide alternative job to
save them from death trap
The workers working in the
agate industries are very eager to get themselves employed in any industry
which can sustain them. But they are devoid of it. There is no scope
provided to them for alternative employment. Years back the textile
mill employed more than five thousand workers. This provided them a
stable life relatively. After the closure of the textile mill the people
living here left with out any hope.
Khambhat is known as one
of the most famous port from ancient time.The port activities can be
activated and the industries related to port and ship can be started.
The closed textile mill can be reopened and the dues to the workers
working in the textile mill be paid with the interest.
When the PUCL team consulted with the workers all desired for the alternative
employment. Being scared of the death trap they are searching alternative
job in near by places like Anand.But they are offered very low wage
in industrial areas in Anand. As a result they are again pushed into
the agate industry. Once running textile mill is closed compelling many
to join this agate industry. Alternative industrial development should
take place. The port activities can be revived and technical education
centre be opened to train the youths in various skills such that they
can opt out this fatal occupation.
The workers, families and
the residence feel very helpless and insecure. The Govt. must come out
to rescue the affected people from the death trap.
Sri Jagdish Patel is working with the agate workers for last 20 years.
The organization has been formed to focus the problems of the agate
workers, who are the victim of Silicosis. He also looks after their
welfare. An office has been functioning in Shakarpur village where they
have program to save the children, help the widows and popularize the
exhaust system and help the patients suffering from T.B and Silicosis.
This organization has taken
up several awareness programs, persuading to the change the technology
.Street plays have been performed. Health Melas were held. The machine
prepared by NIOH has been demonstrated in the four-poster, handbills
are distributed. Conferences are being held to formulate long term as
well as short term measures. Apart from it the organization is continuously
trying to help the victims , their families.
Sri Jagdish Patel worked
with Janpath and Ganatar.Attempts were made to popularize the exhaust
system. . Several memorandums have been submitted.
The PUCL Team
-Sri Gautam Thaker,
The General Secretary, P.U.C.L.
-Sri Dhiru Mistry,
-Sri Dwarika Nath Rath,
Report submitted to-
1-Minisrty of Health , Central
2- Ministry of Health Stat
3- The Governor of Gujarat
5-Human Rights Commission
6- Ministry of Commerce
7-Prime Minister of India
8- Ministry of Industries,
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