Drilling their way to a bleak future
The workers drilling the mountains to dislodge the big stones are not oblivious of their bleak future, but they carry on, ignoring health hazards, reports Soumyajit Pattnaik.
While the government is contemplating raising the retirement age, hardly any thought is given to the workers involved in stone quarrying in the mountains who have to hang up their boots before they turn 35.
The workers drilling the mountains to dislodge the big stones are not oblivious of their bleak future, but they carry on, ignoring health hazards.
The problem is more endemic in Jajpur district of Orissa and is visible to all commuting to Kalinga Nagar – the state’s steel hub.
Rangadhar Mallick, a resident of Madhusudanpur, told Hindustan Times, “During drilling, stones in the mountains, rock debris and dust enter our mouths and nostrils. This is a tough job. You enter the job at 20 and retire after working 10-15 years. You will not find many drilling the mountains after 35 as most of them suffer health problems.”
No proper study has been done on the health problems of these workers, but most of them are stated to be suffering from chest pain and respiratory problems after a few years.
Birendra Mallick, another worker, said, “We get good money till we work. Sometimes, we make Rs 200-300 per day. But this lasts for a maximum of 10 years. Some people who used to do this work from our village fell sick later.”
The Orissa State Pollution Control Board (OSPCB) has compiled a list of 251 stone crushing units in Jajpur district alone for violating the location criteria. Most of the stone crushing units remain closed throughout the day and operate only in the night — to evade action by the pollution officials.
The “siting criteria” notified by the OSPCB stipulates that no stone crusher shall be allowed within one kilometre from a town or village boundary or within half kilometre from the national or state highway.
The OSPCB has issued a notification saying: “Stone crusher units, which are operating in contravention of the above siting criteria, need to be shifted to a suitable location/closed. Stone crushers, which are complying with the siting criteria are required to obtain consent to operate from the State Pollution Control Board under Section 21 of the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981”. The OSPCB portal contains names of all 251 stone crushing units yet to meet guidelines.
Stone crushing units resort to quarrying from the mountains to get the required raw materials. Quarry owners need a licence from the district administration to drill the mountains, but many work without permits.