It is a known issue that heavy industry work such as in the mining industry can wreak havoc on one’s health. However, the scale of the issue, particularly among India’s poorest, often goes overlooked.Populations associated with the mining industry in India — mostly from impoverished and tribal backgrounds – were found to have a significantly elevated risk of acute respiratory diseases and tuberculosis. The recent study was conducted by Madhya Pradesh-based health research institute Indian Council of Medical Research-National Institute of Research in Tribal Health (ICMR-NIRTH).
The study assessed the health of the villagers in Tamnar block of Chhattisgarh’s Raigarh, an area prominent in the coal mining industry. Raigarh is one of the country’s most productive coal mining regions, accounting for over eighteen percent of the country’s coal production. The price of the production in the area, however, is paid with the health of local people.
The study found that a number of conditions were affecting the health of the population. One of the most notable of the findings was that the tuberculosis burden among the study population was nearly double (363 per 100,000 people) the national rate (199 per 100,000 people) and more than triple the rate of Chhattisgarh as a whole (103 per 100,000 people).
The report also found a high rate of prevalence of fungal infection in the people of the area. It noted that “various causes such as environment, overcrowding, diabetes mellitus, bathing in contaminated water and poor living conditions may be major factors.”
An increased risk of respiratory infection, again, is no surprise. High levels of pollution in the area surrounding the mines, as well as an abundance of disrupted airborne particulate matter presents ideal situations for the development of lung conditions.
Health Issues India has previously reported on other health concerns associated with heavy industry such as mining. Silicosis, for example, is a noncommunicable disease (NCD) in which respirable crystalline silica (RCS) particles cause irreversible damage to the lungs. This is due to inhalation of the particles causing minute scar tissue to form within the lungs, gradually diminishing breathing capacity — often leading to fatal lung conditions or comorbidities resulting in death. It is estimated that across India, between three and ten million individuals are at risk of developing the condition.
Silicosis has the potential to destroy communities due to its very localised effects based on the surrounding industry. The Madarangajodi village in Keonjhar district is a prime example of this. The most common occupation in the village is mining. This has led to a disproportionate number of deaths due to silicosis and resulted in the village being known locally as the “village of widows”.
Locals in the area have stated that surveys from across India, and indeed the rest of the world have highlighted the health risks of mining to both the workers and the local community. However, these issues are being overlooked.
“I have been working in this area for about thirty years now – since 1991 – but people of this area that’s crucial for the government in terms of coal reserves, have rarely undergone any health survey,” said Rajesh Tripathi of Raigarh-based Jan Chetna Manch, a social group working for the mining-affected people. “The miners that are active in the area promise in their applications that health facilities will be provided to the local villagers but all that exists on paper only.”
As with many rural, and impoverished regions, healthcare infrastructure is often all but absent. Though legislation and promises from employers are often in place to make provisions for worker’s health, as Rajesh Tripathi comments, this is often on paper only. More must be done to improve workers health, particularly in occupations such as mining in which risks of health concerns are vastly elevated.