The Karua family has lost four of its members in one decade. Tuberculosis claimed three of them and the fourth fell to a mysterious infection. The reason: long exposure to red dust.
A family of mine workers, the Karuas are residents of one of the major iron ore supply hubs in Jharkhand’s West Singhbhum district, Gua, about 160 km southwest of state capital Ranchi.
The iron ore belt, stretching from Noamundi in southwest Jharkhand to Badbil in southwest Orissa, supply iron ore to all major steel plants across the country. Besides, an undefined part of the ore is legally and illegally exported to China at Rs 1,000 a tonne.
“I lost my parents to lung infections,” said Bishnu Karua (22), a contract labourer. His father, Sulochan, died 10 years ago at the age of 38. His mother, Mundha Karua (35), died three years later.
Bishnu said his sister, Seema, married off at the age of 13 or 14, also died of TB. The youngest in the family, Burma, died of some undiagnosed infection at the age of nine.
Also, Bishnu’s neighbour, Bimla Devi (52), is on her deathbed. She has been diagnosed with TB. Her husband, Laxman Sahu, had died of respiratory problems and lung infection.
Enakshi Ganguly Thukral, co-director of a non-government organisation, HAQ: Center for Child Rights, said there had been numerous reports on how exposure to red dust caused respiratory diseases that eventually develop into TB, silicosis, pulmonary fibrosis, asbestosis and ephysema.
Jharkhand State Pollution Control Board (JSPCB) Secretary R.K. Sinha, however, has a curious thing to say: “Higher levels of awareness is required to check human disaster. Majority of miners refuse to wear safety equipment, including masks, helmets and ear-plugs.”
Superintendent of Gua and Chiria SAIL Hospital,
Dr Sameer Das, said, “Around 50 per cent patients coming to us suffer from either lung infection or stomach disorders, which are equally lethal killers. The sources are the polluted air and water in the region.”
But smeared in red ash all over his body, Bishnu still has no idea what causes TB and the mysterious infections.