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NHRC to act on mid-day report on factory violations

The contradictions highlighted in the July 21 mid-day report between the Directorate of Industrial Safety and Health’s statement on the prevalence of industrial diseases in the state and the situation on the ground have led to an environmental advocacy group asking the human rights commission to probe the issue further; the complaint has been admitted by the commission

mid-day’s July 21 report on factories in and around the city posing a major threat to the health of workers and residents in their vicinity has attracted the notice of an environmental advocacy group, which is also fighting to ensure that justice is served to victims of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy

Victim of lies: While the management and medical team of his Ambernath factory kept assuring that there was nothing wrong with him, worker Yogesh Sawant kept exposing himself to the deadly asbestos dust in the factory loom. His was one of the first confirmed cases of the asbestosis in the state; (below
Victim of lies: While the management and medical team of his Ambernath factory kept assuring that there was nothing wrong with him, worker Yogesh Sawant kept exposing himself to the deadly asbestos dust in the factory loom. His was one of the first confirmed cases of the asbestosis in the state; (below

In a complaint that was admitted by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), the Toxics Watch Alliance (TWA) has alleged that senior state officials withheld information on the prevalence of industrial diseases in Maharashtra. Citing mid-day’s investigation on the issue and the contradictions it highlights in the claims made by Directorate of Industrial Safety and Health (DISH), it has asked the NHRC to probe the issue further.

mid-day’s reports on July 21
mid-day’s reports on July 21

In a separate letter to the chief secretary of Maharashtra, based on the mid-day investigation, the TWA has demanded immediate action against officials of DISH who had “misrepresented facts and made a factually incorrect” submission to the NHRC in its affidavit in an ongoing case (number 2951/30/0/2011).

mid-day’s reports on July 21

In his statement, DISH Director V S Moray had claimed on May 10, 2012, that there were about 2,696 workers in nearly 16 asbestos manipulating units in Maharashtra, but not a single case of asbestosis and mesothelioma had been detected by DISH. “This was factually incorrect and tantamount to misrepresentation of facts since media reports have clearly shown now (that) as many as 13 cases of asbestosis and other industrial diseases exist in Maharashtra. This was also established by an inspection report of the National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH) Ahmedabad,” TWA Convenor, Gopal Krishna has said in his letter to the chief secretary of Maharashtra and senior officials of the NHRC. NHRC public relations official Jaimini Kumar Srivastava told mid-day that the rights body is looking into the latest reports from Maharashtra as part of the case. “Our senior officers are apprised of it,” he said.

Long time coming
As part of the ongoing case, the NHRC had, in 2011, asked all chief secretaries, including Maharashtra’s, to submit a report in four weeks on asbestos mining and its effect on workers in factories. The TWA had claimed that, in India alone, 50,000 workers were getting affected by asbestos cancer every year The TWA had sought the rights panel’s intervention for a ban on the use of chrysotile asbestos, which causes incurable diseases.

“The state governments must also, based on complaints, provide for grant of compensation package for the victims of asbestosis,” the NHRC letter of July 1, 2011, to the chief secretaries had said.

The mid-day investigations (‘Danger, factory ahead’/ ‘They lied to me for 15 years of my life, says asbestosis-afflicted labourer’) which appeared on July 21 had revealed how 13 cases of factory diseases in Mumbai and surrounding regions had been reported. This was the first time that industrial diseases had been reported in Maharashtra. This was based on an inspection carried out by a Gujarat-based central agency over the past two years. mid-day had reported how Yogesh Sawant, a worker who was being exposed to asbestos on a daily basis and was repeatedly assured by factory owners and doctors that everything was fine, was diagnosed with asbestosis by NIOH, a central agency.

An internal report of Moray, Director, DISH (Maharashtra) had also been accessed by this newspaper. “In stark contrast to what Mr Moray had submitted to NHRC, his own internal report admitted that NIOH inspections had raised a question mark on Maharashtra’s system of detecting factory diseases. This apart, there were stark inconsistencies in the submission made to NHRC on behalf of the Maharashtra government,” Krishna told mid-day.

Moray had said that private doctors were repeatedly inspecting the factories along with DISH teams, but after the NIOH visit, his internal report read, “This visit by NIOH has exposed our weaknesses and left a big question mark over our inspection, supervision, and medical examination methods. This is a big embarrassment for Maharashtra.”

'Going scot-free'
In its recent letter to the Maharashtra chief secretary, the TWA also claimed that it has been clearly established that factory owners and managers were allowed to go scot-free, despite violating norms. The inspections revealed that 23 asbestos factories, host to 2,583 workers, and several other factories in the MMR region were not conducting the mandatory membrane filter test to monitor the presence of asbestos fibre in the work environment, and were not even conducting training programmes for the workers.

The DISH inspections had found that M/s Ashadeep Frictions, M/s Graphics India (Ambernath), Eastwell Asbestos Industries (Ulhasnagar), Hyderabad Industries (Thane), Mechanical Packaging (Tarapur), Nella Asbestos (Dahanu) and Wilson Products (Kolhapur) were not carrying out the all-important membrane tests. Of the seven inspections in Thane, six factories had not organised training programmes for workers — M/s Champion Seals, M/s Mechanical Packaging, M/s Standard Clutches & Spares, M/s Standard Friction, M/s Ashadeep Frictions and Graphics India.

“These are the same factories that were mentioned in the reply filed in the NHRC by the Government of Maharashtra in 2012. They (state officials) had submitted then that there was nothing wrong with these factories. This again was a lie. And in view of these latest facts, the state chief secretary’s urgent intervention is quite germane to rectify the incorrect submission to NHRC on behalf of the Government of Maharashtra and to file a fresh reply in the Case No. 2951/30/0/2011 in order to ensure justice for workers, their families and the communities living in the vicinity of asbestos-based factories,” Krishna told mid-day.

Nexus

mid-day had reported how 100-odd private doctors in the state are being monitored by a single government surgeon, who not only authorises examinations but performs them as well. The lone government surgeon for Maharashtra, Dr Atul Band, conducted 2,500 tests last year and confirmed the 13 cases highlighted by the NIOH.

“There is a clear nexus of private doctors and factory inspectors. This nexus is just fooling the people of Maharashtra into believing that all is well in our factories and industries. But, unfortunately, that is not the case,” he had said.

When DISH director, V S Moray, was asked for details of industrial cases detected by certified private doctors, he had said, “This is confidential information and not in the public domain, as much as we want to keep things transparent.”

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