You are at Toxics Alert > Feature > Dusty Future
Toxics Alert, an environment news bulletin from toxics link Toxics Link
Issue 10
, 2009
View issue number:
  Home  |  Editorial  |  Feature  |  Interview  |  News  |  Policy  |  Updates  |  Reports / International News  |  Partner


Dusty Future

Silicosis remains a major occupational disease in India
Source: Suparnaa Dutta, Date: , 2009

lal kuanWhat started off as a socio-educational project to educate children of Lal Kuan in Delhi proliferated into a still bigger cause.

While running education centres for the poor children in this area, S A Azad, key person and coordinator of NGO Prasar (People’s Rights & Social Research Centre) dedicatedly working for the environmental and occupational health and education, noticed a very disturbing trend. Most of the families residing in Lal Kuan had members dying of what was blanketly diagnosed as TB.

Nothing well at “red well”

Azad and his fellow activists from Prasar found Lal Kuan, a village tucked away in dusty corners of the city, to be a quiet place. It was formerly an active mining and quarrying area. When the units shifted to Pali in Haryana all that was left were the former mine workers, stone crushers and their families and their troubled existence with a slew of symptoms that for ages were mistakenly attributed to TB.

Residents of Lal Kuan say that in the years mining and crushing activities were on, everything in the village used to be covered by a thick layer of dust and visibility was poor.

Lal Kuan literally means “red well”.

It has been the centre of mining and quarrying activities since Independence. Active mining came to halt in 1985 but the stone crushing activities continue to operate till 1992 when Supreme Court in M.C.Mehta vs. Union of India ordered the units be closed and stone-cutters, quarry-workers be shifted to Pali in Haryana.

In 1999 Prasar started their campaigns in Lal Kuan to disseminate basic education amongst the children there.

In 2000 the so-called TB cases were re-examined and the findings pointed towards a deadly occupational disease common amongst stone crushers and mine workers or those exposed to dust of silica over a period of time. Silicosis.

stone crushing unitWhat is Silicosis?

Silicosis, an age-old occupational disease that remains a major occupational health problem in India, is responsible for high morbidity and mortality of industrial workers.

It is a lung disease caused by long-term inhalation of invisible dust containing silica particles. The dust containing silica particles is found in industries like stone mining, stone crushing, sandblasting, pottery, quarrying, stone and metal grinding etc.In its pure state, it forms quartz or rock crystal.

Silicosis is a progressive disease that belongs to a group of lung disorders call3ed pneumoconiosis. It is identified by the formation of lumps or nodules and fibrous scar tissues in the lungs. It is disabling, non-reversible and most often fatal. It is also associated with diseases like bronchitis, tuberculosis and even lung cancer.

Depending on the level of exposure of the worker silicosis could be of the following types:

Chronic silicosis usually occurring after 10 or more years of overexposure;

Accelerated silicosis resulting from higher exposure of five to 10 years;

Acute silicosis occurring when exposure is the highest and symptoms developing within a few weeks to five years.

Initially workers with silicosis may have no symptoms. As silicosis progresses, there may be difficulty in breathing and other chest symptoms such as cough. Infectious complications may cause fever, weight loss and night sweats. Severe mycobacterial or fungal infections can further complicate the disease and make it fatal.

Removal of the source of the silica exposure can prevent further worsening of the disease.

Free crystalline silica is one of the most common minerals in the earth’s crust. The three most common forms are quartz, tridymite and crystbalite. Inhaled crystalline silica is classified by International Agency for Research on Cancer as a group 1 human lung carcinogen. It is therefore one of the occupational hazards in stone cutting.

dusty roads of lal kuanSilicosis: a lurking menace

The history of mine and stone-crusher of Delhi dying by silicosis goes back to the time when the British rulers made Delhi the capital of their empire in India. The rulers had then hired workers to level down the Raisina Hills, so that the Viceroy’s residence could be built there.

In the 1940s and 50s workers were hired to crush stones in the Anand Parvat Kala Pahad Ratiwala and Chadrawal. Over the next two decades the work moved on first to Dhaula Kuan, and when the land prices there went up to Lal Kuan, Rajokri, Bhati mines and Kusum hills.

Village Pali is located about 20 km from Delhi-Faridabad border also known as Badarpur in the foothills of Aravalli.The zone having another village named Mohabtabad and are collectively known as Pali-Mohabtabad crusher zone.

There are around 1000 homes in Pali and around 600 in Mohabatabad and a population of nearly 8000 living in both villages. The main community inhibiting the area belongs to Gujjars who used to earn their livelihood from the animal husbandry. The area was self-dependent and people used to carry on farming and keep animals to earn their basic needs of food and shelter.

After the introduction of mining and establishment of crushers in the vicinity of village in 1992, the natives were lured into the business by handsome returns and a regular employment. Most of them sold away their land and animals to purchase trucks . The rest of the money was taken on as loans from banks or private financers.

The mining, which started in 1992-93, went on till 2001-2002. Even after Supreme Court’s order to stop quarrying some of the operational crushing units of Pali-Mohabtabad area still kept on getting their raw material from nearby villages of Sirohi and Khori.

Prasar’s survey

In August 2001 PRASAR conducted a survey in Lal Kuan in order to find out the people affected from silicosis. The identification of the people was done mainly on the basis of the NGO’s own understanding of the disease. These three steps that were followed are: Occupational history, Symptoms and Clinical examination.

The survey was divided into two sections: a>those who are presently suffering from the disease>those who have died because of silicosis ascertained through oral autopsy.

The analysis of this survey has indicated that 83 people were suffering from silicosis.

lal kuanPRASAR submitted its preliminary survey to the Centre for Occupational and Environmental Health for further verification. The centre conducted a survey did check-ups and interviewed people. Commending the summary report prepared by PRASAR the experts from the centre recommended that the degree of certainty of the presence of silicosis in the residents of Lal Kuan be ascertained. The preliminary findings showed that people suffered from cough with sputum and shortness of breath and appeared weak and wasted. It was also revealed that women who had lost their husbands of silicosis were themselves suffering from the disease.

It was observed that about 70000 residents and workers were at risk. Many had cited TB like respiratory diseases at a young age, many were still employed at the new quarry. Few were examined under x-ray; none had been autopsied; there was no air sampling done; no preventive measures of any kind were undertaken. It was recommended that diagnostic tests be undertaken to confirm or reject the hypothesis that silicosis is a major occupational disease in this population. A comparative study between those worked in the quarry and those who never did such work to determine the prevalence and age of onset of respiratory disease.

lal kuan stone crushingLegal Battle

Prasar started legal tussles and campaigns to avail of medical facilities for the silicosis affected and financial assistance for the families of the deceased. Moreover, it demanded government intervention in drafting , distributing and managing rehabilitation packages for the stone crushers and mine workers diagnosed with symptoms of Silicosis. The focus was on providing alternate livelihood for these people.

After months of persistent campaigning and media coverage the first success came when Delhi government passed out a rehabilitation package for the Lal Kuan residents.

Prasar’s efforts were well awarded when National Human Rights Commission turned itself into a co-petitioner with Prasar .

The legal battles in various states saw mixed results.

Gujarat-Madhya Pradesh

There are 24 factories in Godhra dist. Of Gujarat where Quartz stone is powdered and packed. Due to inadequate safety measures the dust inhaled during the processing caused chest pain, silicosis and silico-tuberculosis.

Labour from Jhabua Dist. In MP used to get employment in some of these factories.

After it was brought to the notice of Collector of Godhra by Collector of Jhabua in June 2005, he responded that in all 176 criminal cases have been filed against the defaulting employers for breach of provisions of Health and Safety . Directorate of Industrial Health and Safety, Govt. of MP also registered 44 cases against the factories located in Godhra and the same were forwarded to Govt. of Gujarat for taking action.

Andhra Pradesh

When Andhra Pradesh Mineral Development Corporation (APDMC) started Quartz mining operations in 1965 in the villages of Shadnagar and Mehboob Nagar, the villagers were overjoyed. All operations ceased in 1974. They suddenly withdrew after retrenching its workers who were given a month’s wage in lieu of notice.

dustSilicosis had affected much of the workforce. The first confirmed case was diagnosed in 1974.

When silicosis struck, the villagers thought that they were cursed by an evil spirit.With the passage of time a clear pattern emerged as more and more villagers developed symptoms of wheezing cough and weakness.

The disease acquired a local name –guttala beemari-or the disease of the hills. So widespread was the damage the village was called Mundarella thanda , a widow’s village.


Jodhpur dist. which includes the famous Thar Desert is an arid region, low in natural resources and characterized by perennial drought and water shortages. Jodhpur city is the capital of this district. It is a major tourist centre attracting visitors from all over the world. Few are aware of the conditions of the sandstone mines.

The occupational disease silicosis is specified at S.No. 12 in the Third schedule under Section 89 of the Factories Act 1948. The industries and processes where the possibility of contracting silicosis exist are also specified in Schedule 1 under Section 2(cb) of the Factories Act 1948. The industries specified are as follows:

Foundries (ferrous and non-ferrous), castings and forgings including cleaning and smoothening/roughening by sand and shot blasting.
Glass and ceramics
Grinding and glazing of metals

Special treatment facilities for the occupational diseases of silicosis are also available at Employers’ State Insurance Hospitals.

child from lal kuanJharkhand

The uranium that fuels India’s nuclear weapons and energy programme is mined at Jaduguda in Sinbhum dist. of Jharkhand. The company that does this mining is Uranium Corporation of India Ltd. UCIL that is a GOI undertaking under the administrative control of Department of Atomic Energy . UCIL was established in 1967 and started its operation in 1968 at Jaduguda with uranium ore mining and a processing plant, each of 1000 metric tones per day capacity.
For more than a decade there have been a large number of news repoprts in various magazines and newspapers detailing various health problems suffered by people of this area. Mostly these have concerned a large number of deformities in children and lung problems.

Labour Ministry response

Manipulation of the stone or other material containing free silica is identified as one of the dangerous operations under section 87 of the Factory’s Act 1948.

Lal Kuan now

From 1999 Narayani and her family are associated with Prasar. Many members of her family had succumbed to Silicosis over past few years. She had always rendered most active support to Prasar in all their campaigns against the Silicosis menace.

In 2005 when rehab package was announced by Delhi govt. after vehement pressure from social groups such as Prasar.

The major break-through came in October 24, 2005 when the Chief Minister of Delhi, Sheila Dixit convened a meeting in Delhi Secretariat to discuss the prevalence of silicosis in the Lal Kuan area. The meeting was attended by the Health Minister of Govt. of Delhi, Food Minister, Principal Secretary (Health and Family Welfare), Director Social Welfare, and Director Health Services (DHS). Satish Sinha of Toxics Link and Azad along with the victims were also present in the meeting to explain the plight of the silicosis sufferers.
In the meeting, Chief Minister asked the officials to find a long-term rehabilitation plan for the silicosis victims. To meet it, the following demands of the people of the area were agreed on in the meeting:

· A multi purpose hospital for the treatment of occupational diseases will be built at Tajpur near Lal Kuan;
· A medical team consisting of occupational health experts should immediately conduct clinical survey of the affected persons in Lal Kuan area;

The Social Welfare Department have been asked to coordinate physical survey of the affected people; The Social Welfare Department and the Health Department will also assist for alternative livelihood opportunities for the citizens of Lal Kuan.

After the meeting with the Chief Minister, mobile medical vans are now visiting for four days a week. It is distributing free medicines for silicosis and other respiratory and occupational diseases. The building of the hospital at Tajpur with X-ray facility needed for the detection of silicosis is almost complete.

The survey of the medical team is complete. A short report on the health survey has also been submitted to the Delhi government. The health survey results show that, about 68 per cent of the people surveyed suffer from silicosis, silico-tuberculosis and tuberculosis.

A large percentage of people also suffer from hearing loss and malnutrition. The survey stressed on the need for continued surveillance of the health of the people and a further comprehensive study on the health of Lal Kuan victims.

The Social Welfare Department has also started its physical survey to bring the silicosis victims into Antyodaya scheme and granting pensions.


Prasar felt that the best way to monitor and facilitate the implementation of the rehab package can be best done through local civic organization. Thus were born Prasar Vikas Sangstha (mainly focused at monitoring the rehab programme) , Samudaik Vikas Samiti Lal Kuan (affiliated under Urban Development department ,Govt.of Delhi and assisting in implementing various govt. schemes such as Anganwadi, employment schemes , micro finance etc.)and Sahyog (local self –help group formed with the victims of Silicosis or their family members.

Narayani, who came to Lal Kuan as a young bride of 18, is the general secretary of all the three committees. Today at 29, she is one of longest-standing members of the social activism at Lal Kuan. Managing a team of about 20, most of whom women, Narayani does an envious time-jugglery between social work and domestic work.

Everyday challenges are many. Residents still need to be explained differences between TB and Silicosis. It is still not easy to open savings accounts at banks. Even the nationalized ones refuse the residents loans point blank. Ration card still is distant dream for many of them. Mobile medical facilities leave much scope for improvements. Medicines are simply handed over to the residents without any proper check-up most of the times.

The final War against silicosis menace might not have been won but small successe are not rare. In Pondicherry, for example, a complaint against a glass-manufacturing unit took such proportions that the government of Pondicherry awarded Rs 20,000 to Rs 50,000 to 18 ex-workers of the factory totaling Rs six lakhs. Showing urgency the Haryana Government has also charted down stringent Engineering, Personal Protective and Statutory controls. These include the crushing machines to be enclosed by way of erecting enclosure sheds equipped with water sprinklers to suppress the dust, the stones to be wetted before feeding the jaw crusher and hoppers being installed at the discharge end of conveyors through which the stone dust is directed to fall in a heap. The provisions of the Factories Act, 1948 are being enforced by the Directorate of Industrial Safety and Health, Labour Department. Regular inspections are undertaken to monitor the proper enforcement of these rules.

In a major break-through Prasar along with other groups of activists pressurized GOI’s Ministry of Labour & Employment to come up with a number of proposals for organized as well as unorganized sectors. Some of these if implemented would certainly help mitigate the problems of occupational hazards. For example, under Identification of occupations involving crystalline silica the action plan categorically includes“ any process like glass foundry, ceramics, sand and any other material containing silica”. It is also recommended that all states who have industrial Hygiene Laboratories would make use of these facilities for carrying out surveys in their respective states. Further, National Human Rights Commission with the help of Ministry of Health should create public awareness among medical practitioners and common people. International agencies like ILO and WHO should be addressed to share knowledge in handling silicosis.

While there is no dearth of media and public support in upholding the tragedy behind Lal Kuan’s veil of red dust much of the actions gets delayed due to red tapism at various levels. “What to do?” says Azad Prasad. “ One can only live in hope….”