August 11, 2023

Good morning. In today’s either/view, we discuss whether Rajasthan’s 2019 Policy on Pneumoconiosis has been effective. We also look at the increase in elephant population in Karnataka, among other news.


Silicosis Prognosis: Has Rajasthan’s 2019 Policy on Pneumoconiosis been effective?

Death penalties aren’t always confined to prisoners behind bars. They are served to those neglected by the state too. Silicosis, an incurable lung disease, is a common occupational hazard for those exposed to silica dust, sandstone, quartz, slate, and construction materials like clay bricks and tiles. Millions of Indians suffer through it or watch their sole breadwinner wither due to fatal working conditions. All the noble principles enshrined in our Constitution and our collective moral compass falter here.

There’s a fine line between occupational health hazards and human rights abuse. Careful not to cross it, the Rajasthan government launched the Policy of Pneumoconiosis in 2019. Doing so, it became the first state to formalise a principle of action for those afflicted by Silicosis, and their families. Three years later, has it made the grade? Or are there more lessons to be learned?


Silicosis is a severe lung disease caused by breathing in silica dust. There are three types: acute, accelerated, and chronic. It mainly affects those in jobs like quarrying, manufacturing, and construction. Breathing in silica may not have immediate effects, but it harms the lungs over time.

Lung diseases like asbestosis, silicosis, and coal workers’ pneumoconiosis are grouped as Pneumoconioses. India has a large population of mining, quarrying, and construction workers at risk. The construction industry employs around 60 million workers. Around 11.5 million workers were in silica dust-related jobs in 2015-16 – this could rise to 52 million by 2025-26.

Rajasthan alone has over 30,000 mines with 3 million workers. 3.2 million work in construction. As for silicosis’ prevalence, in Haryana, 9% of mine workers had the disease, while in Rajasthan, it ranged from 37% among general mine workers to 38-79% among stone mineworkers.

The Indian state recognised its perils early on. The same can’t be said for developing measures to address it.

S Subba Rao, a senior surgeon of the Mysore Government, was the first to report silicosis in 1934. It then came to be recognised under various laws: Factories Act 1948, Mines Act 1952, and Building and Other Construction Workers Act 1996. It’s also considered compensable under Employees Compensation Act 1923 and the Employees’ State Insurance Act 1948.

Still, silicosis cases are rarely reported in many states, and due to the lack of a centralised national database, there’s limited information about its prevalence in factories and other jobs. Even in Rajasthan, until the late 2010s, precise data on silicosis cases was hard to find. The issue gained attention around 2009 due to activism and research.

The National Human Rights Commission identified 22 deaths and 52 cases in 2009, and from 2012 to 2014, they found over 800 cases and 57 deaths due to silicosis.

But that wasn’t enough to nudge the government to formulate a policy. A series of reports showed a high silicosis prevalence, ranging from 38.4% to 78.5% among sandstone mine workers in Karauli district. For workers in stone mines over 20 years, the prevalence was 100%.

What did prompt some action was the Rajasthan State Human Rights Commission’s “Special Report on Silicosis” with comprehensive recommendations for detection, prevention, relief, and rehab. It led to Rajasthan’s “2019 Policy on Pneumoconiosis and Silicosis,” with the government prioritising silicosis grant disbursement.

Awareness, prevention, early diagnosis and compensation are the basic tenets of dealing with this occupational hazard. Does Rajasthan’s policy score high on these fronts, or are we dealing with a fractured course of action?

VIEW: Got a lot going for it

To aid those affected by silicosis, the government introduced an online portal for registration and relief certification. The numbers point to a substantial rise in silicosis awareness. By May 31, 2022, almost 2 lakh individuals had registered for silicosis screening. After the online system went live, district pneumoconiosis boards certified 23,436 silicosis cases, including 6,876 deaths.

The government has spent significantly on compensation to the families. Over ₹550 crore have been provided in relief to silicosis victims. The state government is establishing a Project Monitoring Unit to execute the policy and has allocated ₹5 crore for silicosis prevention and research efforts.

Rajasthan not just stands out as a pioneer in implementing a policy for silicosis, but is often seen as a model to follow. Other states like Haryana, West Bengal, and Jharkhand have also created their own policies for silicosis relief and rehabilitation. Learning from Rajasthan’s successful approach can guide other states and developing nations in effective implementation.

COUNTERVIEW: All’s not well

Silicosis is more widespread than official stats suggest, with many cases going unnoticed or misdiagnosed. This matters because the Directorate General Of Mines Safety (DGMS), in charge of mine safety, can act against owners only if they’re known. But just 10%-20% of Rajasthan’s 33,100+ mining leases are DGMS-registered. A significant number of mines aren’t even registered with the labour and employment ministry. Out of 30,000 mining leases in 2012, only 3,706 were registered. This exclusion means these mines aren’t inspected by the ministry and aren’t bound by the rules of the 1952 Mines Act.

Though awareness has grown, working conditions have only slightly improved. Superficial screenings are another example where policy implementation staggers. Patients are often turned away after a quick diagnosis. Only during the late, critical stages, when they’re visibly weakened, do they get attention. Superficial screening denies them early diagnosis that could prolong life.

Compensation for affected families is far from satisfactory. Out of 2,200 registered silicosis death cases, only 365 families (16.6%) have received aid, according to a state government portal. The situation is worse for living patients entitled to Rs 3 lakh and a monthly pension; of the 86,000 registered, only 1,333 (1.5%) have received help.

Reference Links:

  • Why lifesaving funds are not reaching Rajasthan’s silicosis patients – Scroll
  • Challenges and opportunities for silicosis prevention and control: need for a national health program on silicosis in India – NCBI
  • Silicosis–An Ancient Disease: Providing Succour to Silicosis Victims, Lessons from Rajasthan Model – NCBI
  • Do not breathe easy on the silicosis prevention policy – The Hindu

What is your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)

a) Rajasthan’s 2019 Policy on Pneumoconiosis has been effective.

b) Rajasthan’s 2019 Policy on Pneumoconiosis has been ineffective.


For the Right:

Treatment for the Dead, Discharge Before Surgery and the Many Problems of Ayushman Bharat

For the Left:

This Is How Amit Shah Deftly Negotiated The Manipur Minefield Both Inside And Outside Parliament Yesterday


Protests against Manipur violence (Punjab) – Christian and Dalit organisations held protests across several cities in the state against the Manipur violence. In parts of Jalandhar and Ferozepur, shops were closed as protestors shouted slogans against the Cente for the situation in Manipur. The Dalit and Christian outfits declared a Punjab bandh, which prompted state officials to deploy police personnel in various parts of the state.

Why it matters: Several religious groups were angry at the Centre and religious leaders for not speaking up and taking action on the ongoing violence in Manipur where they said minorities were being oppressed. Among the groups that participated were the Muslim Federation and the Muslim-Sikh Federation. Since May 3, more than 160 people have died after ethnic violence broke out.

Increase in elephant population (Karnataka) – According to a recent census, the elephant population in Karnataka has increased by 350. The total number of elephants in the state now stands at 6,395. It has the highest number of elephants, at least in South India. Karnataka Minister for Forest, Environment and Ecology Eshwar B Khandre informed reporters of the survey’s results, which were conducted between May 17 and 19.

Why it matters: The survey was part of the Synchronized Elephant Population estimation that’s conducted every five years across Karnataka, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu. In 2017, Karnataka’s elephant population was 6,049. In 2022, there was an attempt to conduct the survey along with the tiger census. The latest elephant population numbers will help the state categorise them according to age and gender.

Snake rescue guidelines (Odisha) – The state Forest, Environment and Climate Change Department has released new guidelines for snake handlers for the rescue and release of snakes from human-populated areas. Only certified handlers are permitted to conduct any snake rescue and release operations in the state. Snakes will be rescued only when they’re a threat to human life, like inside a house or near human habitation. Failure to abide by the guidelines will invite penalties per the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.

Why it matters: According to the 2020-21 Annual Report on Natural Calamities published by the Revenue and disaster management department of Odisha, over 1,000 deaths were attributed to snakebites. Some estimates showed more people died from snakebites from 2016 to 2021 than from cyclones and flooding.

New Omicron variant (Maharashtra) – State health officials said a new Omicron sub-variant, EG.5.1.1, was detected in the state in May. Maharashtra health surveillance officer Babita Kamlapurkar said there’s a need to exercise caution since there was a small spike in cases over the past couple of months. According to data from the state health department, the number of active Covid cases increased from 70 at the end of July to 115 on August 6.

Why it matters: While the new variant was detected a few months ago, officials said it’s not alarming. Officials said only one case was reported in May and that the Centre is monitoring the variant. Maharashtra is the first state to detect a case of the new variant. The new variant is a sub-strain of the Omicron XBB.1.9. It first triggered concern in the UK.

Education for refugees (Mizoram) – Over 8,000 children of refugees were enrolled in the state’s government schools, according to Education Minister Lalchhandama Ralte. Among the students, over 6,300 are from Myanmar, 250 are from Bangladesh, and over 1,500 are from Manipur. Ralte said the state is committed to providing them with education along with free uniforms, textbooks, and mid-day meals.

Why it matters: The state has been providing shelter and relief to over 35,000 refugees from the coup-hit Myanmar since February 2021, 1,000 from the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) of Bangladesh, and over 1,000 from Manipur displaced due to the ongoing ethnic violence. Many stay in rented accommodations or relatives’ houses. Others rely on NGOs like the Young Mizo Association and the state government.


75 lakh tonnes – The central government will offload 50 lakh tonnes of wheat and 25 lakh tonnes of rice in the open market to help moderate the price rise and control food inflation.