Thirty-year-old Dinesh Rai Singh is a happy man.
Singh’s decade-long battle for justice attained partial fruition on Wednesday, with the Supreme Court ordering the Gujarat government to pay Rs 3 lakh as compensation to the families of each of the 238 people who died of silicosis between 2000 and 2005.
The victims, residents of Madhya Pradesh’s Alirajpur and Jhabua districts, had migrated to Godhra and Balasimor districts in Gujarat to seek employment at stone crushing factories in 2000. It was while working in these industrial units that they contracted the ailment.
A bench headed by Justice Kurien Joseph ordered the state to pay Rs 1 lakh to the victims and make a fixed deposit of the balance amount. It also directed the Madhya Pradesh government to rehabilitate 304 people who had survived the illness, but were unable to work due to side effects of the treatment.
The bench asked the state to file an affidavit with details of the steps taken on the ground.
While Singh was one of the 304 people who survived, his wife and sister were not. He was 15 when the three left home to work in the crushing factories.
“I was newly married then. Our financial situation forced us to go to Gujarat. We went back in 2005, after which my wife and sister died,” Singh told HT after attending the court hearing.
A year after he lost his family members, Singh and the relatives of the other victims moved the apex court in 2006 to seek guidelines for stopping pollution caused by quartz factories. Despite an NHRC report that recommended compensating the victims, Gujarat refused to pay up – stating that it was up to the Employee State Insurance Corporation to do so.
The apex court order asks the two to sort out the dispute, adding that the same should not come in the way the compensation disbursal in six weeks.
For Singh, however, the battle will continue. Fresh data shows that silicosis has affected 1,701 tribals in the region because the crushing factories have not complied with guidelines prescribed by the pollution watchdog. The apex court will take up the issue on May 11.