India's road to developed-nation status is littered with the bodies of its workers. If at least 40,000 workers die every year at work, and lakhs more, particularly in the informal sector, fall prey to occupational diseases, it's just collateral damage. One can understand industry's motives in absolving itself of liability, but how does one explain the government's lapses in this regard, or that of trade unions and workers collectives?
India has had legislation on occupational safety and health for 50 years. But regulatory authorities are limited to 1,400 safety officers, 1,154 factory inspectors, and 27 medical inspectors. These numbers are grossly inadequate even for the inspection of formal units that only employ about 10% of India's total workforce (around 26 million), let alone the millions who work in the informal sector with absolutely no safeguards
An estimated 43,000 people -- saltpan workers, their families and dependants -- engage in salt farming during the September-May season in the Little Rann of Kutch, living and working in conditions that can only be described as medieval. They earn 12 paise a kg of salt produced, suffering all sorts of skin diseases from being constantly immersed in brine. There is no power, no potable water, no schools and no healthcare here
It was only after the 1920s that the law recognised the responsibility of the employer to provide a safe work environment for his employees. Since then, a number of laws and judicial interpretations that deal with occupational safety and health have been passed. But these provide security only to the organised workforce. They have not been effective in dealing with the unorganised sector
Half-a-million labourers are employed in the natural stone industry of Rajasthan alone, so it's impossible to calculate exactly how many people toil all over India to supply the stone, cement and bricks of the boom-time construction industry. Yet, India still clings to elementary methods of extraction using bonded labourers, many of them female and under 14, with absolutely no safeguards
India's success in the global garments market has been at the cost of the basic rights of this industry's predominantly female and migrant labour force. These women work in sweatshops that demand impossible targets of 100-120 garments an hour, with virtually no breaks allowed. Eighty per cent of TB patients registered with the ESIC, accordingly to one official, are garment workers exposed to cotton fluff
The longest word in the English language is the full form of silicosis. No one knows it, just as no one knows that 10 million workers in India are at risk of silicosis, a fatal disease often mistaken for tuberculosis. Some industries, like the slate pencil industry in Mandsaur, report a 59% prevalence of silicosis. One village in Andhra Pradesh is even known as Widow's Village because most of the men in the village were stonecrushers who died of silicosis
Occupational exposure to pesticides is routine among farmers and farm workers. For victims of pesticide poisoning, recovery is not easy. For medical practitioners treating poisoning cases, it is just another source of income. For the pesticide industry, it's business as usual. Meanwhile, the government chooses to turn a blind eye to the issue, preferring to blame the victims for their ignorance and negligence in wrongly handling pesticides