For the mining communities of Rajasthan, silicosis is a major public health scourge. To help those affected by the long-term disease, a plan for silicosis compensation has been announced by the state government.
Between three and ten million Indians are at risk of developing silicosis, a lung disease caused by exposure to respirable crystalline silica (RCS) which is found within stone and rocks and distributed into the air by processing or mining of the materials. This exposure can result in scarring and hardening of lung tissue, which is irreversible and increases the risk of a plethora of respiratory illnesses such as lung disease.
Given the link between construction activity and silicosis, high rates of silicosis have far-reaching impacts for communities where occupations such as mining are the primary profession. In the example of Madarangajodi, a village in the Keonjhar district of Odisha, the sheer number of deaths due to silicosis has led to the village being dubbed “a village of widows,” impoverishing families due to either the loss of a breadwinner or the healthcare costs of managing a long-term, debilitating disease. Similarly, in the village of Roundhpura in Rajasthan – also dubbed a “widows’ village” – quarry worker Ramashai Meena told National Geographic earlier this year that “almost every house here has lost someone to silicosis.”
Rajasthan bears a significant burden of silicosis. The state alone is home to an estimated 22,000 people living with the disease. Plans for silicosis compensation come as a welcome move, from an administration which has expressed affinity with and concern for those affected by silicosis. “The government is serious about the issue of silicosis in mining areas,” Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot commented earlier this year. “We would surely make efforts to free the state from the disease.”
Earlier this year, the state government launched a policy which enabled silicosis patients and their families to avail a number of social security benefits and created provisions for the creation of a safe working environment to lower the silicosis risk among miners. On the heels of this policy, silicosis compensation to the tune of a monthly pension of Rs 1,500 has been announced for individuals affected by the disease. For the widows of silicosis patients who lose their lives to the disease, the same pension will be paid. Additionally, Rs 3 lakh is paid to silicosis patients following their diagnosis and Rs 2 lakh paid after their death.