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Silicosis: A Death Trap For
Agate Workers In Gujarat

By PUCL Gujarat

01 November, 2007


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 old tradition.

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. etc.

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.

Profiteering trade

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 it's machineries.

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 prevent Silicosis.

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 through legislation.
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 low interest
The widows of the workers died due to the silicosis be properly rehabilitated economically.
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.

Compensation-:These workers 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.

The alternative
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. Gujarat Chapter

-Sri Dhiru Mistry,

Member, PUCL

-Sri Dwarika Nath Rath,

Member, PUCL

Report submitted to-

1-Minisrty of Health , Central Govt.

2- Ministry of Health Stat Govt.

3- The Governor of Gujarat


5-Human Rights Commission , Gujarat

6- Ministry of Commerce

7-Prime Minister of India

8- Ministry of Industries, Gujarat



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