Silicosis on the rise all over country, SC told

A view of a stone-crushing facility in Taxila.  — Irfan Haider/ file

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court ordered provincial health secretaries on Wednesday to compile figures on the number of patients treated for silicosis in the country.

The directive was issued at the request of Barrister Raheel Kamran Sheikh, representing human right activists Usama Khawar, a member of the Public Lawyers’ Front (PLF), and Yahya Farid.

Read| Footprints: Factories of death

They regretted that the number of patients of silicosis, a disease that cripples lungs, was not restricted to a particular area but on the rise in different cities of the country.

A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Nasir-ul-Mulk had taken up an application of the petitioners about the death of 18 stone-crushers in Gujranwala. Nine of them died of the incurable disease in one village.

The applicants regretted that employers had failed to provide safe working conditions in stone-crushing factories. By condoning the environmental and occupational health hazards posed by these factories, the respondents have acted in contravention of fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution.

Also read: Besides pollution, stone crushing plant owners violate labour rights

Barrister Sheikh pleaded that all the petitioners wanted was a court directive which could help prevent workers from dying of the disease. Those who contracted the disease should be timely treated and compensation should be paid to legal heirs of those who died of the disease. The counsel informed the court that only three of the 57 stone-crushing factories in Lahore had been registered with the government departments concerned.

The court ordered the secretary of Punjab local government to submit a report on the number of such industries functioning without registration, especially in Lahore. The court also asked the environment and labour departments of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Sindh and Balochistan to submit a similar data.

Also read: SC seeks report on stone crushers’ deaths

Additional Advocate General of Punjab Razzaq A. Mirza submitted a report on behalf of the district labour officer Gujranwala saying that notices under the Factories Act 1934 had been issued to the employers of 19 stone-crushing factories. They have been directed to apply standardised safety measures to protect workers from unsafe environment.

The report said the indifferent attitude of delinquent owners was also brought to the notice of the district administration.

As a result, the special judicial magistrate in Gujranwala had imposed a fine of Rs5,000 per violation. The inspectors of factories concerned filed appeals in the sessions court against the imposition of the meagre amount of fine.

According to the report, the Punjab chief minister approved a financial assistance and Rs300,000 each was paid to 13 dependents of the deceased workers on Nov 25. A similar amount will be paid to the remaining five legal heirs upon provision of succession certificates.

Barrister Sheikh also submitted an application requesting the apex court to order to the Environment Protection Agency and the labour and human resources department of Punjab to furnish fresh compliance reports on the recommendations made by a committee constituted in 2012 when silicosis cases were reported in Chak Nangar, D.G. Khan.

“It is imperative that these recommendations are put into effect due to the grave nature of the issue and the rising number of stone-crushers falling victim to silicosis disease,” it said.

The case was adjourned to Jan 7.

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