Between three and ten million Indians are at risk of developing the disease, caused by the inhalation of dust containing silica. Inhalation of this dust over time can cause scarring and hardening of lung tissue, which is irreversible, and has also been linked to a heightened risk of developing lung cancer.
Silicosis is one of the major health concerns for India’s mining communities, including in Rajasthan which is home to an estimated 22,000 silicosis patients. Earlier this year, Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot spoke up on the issue of silicosis, stating “the government is serious about the issue of silicosis in mining areas. We would surely make efforts to free the state from the disease.” The silicosis policy marks a concrete step towards this.
Among the provisions of the policy, silicosis patients and their families can avail a number of social security benefits such as pensions and health coverage. It also includes provisions for the creation of a safe working environment to lower the silicosis risk among miners.
“Earlier, the government’s responsibility was limited to providing grants to silicosis patients,” Akhil Arora, principal secretary of the state social justice and empowerment department, explained when the policy was announced. “Hence, under the new policy, the role of the government would be to prevent the disease by enforcing a certain kind of work environment at the construction, stone crushing and mining sites. This is a major shift in the emphasis of the government.”
“The policy has many provisions which will provide relief to affected people,” Gehlot said at the policy’s launch.