Anarcho-environmentalism allegorised

The name Anaarkali in the present context has many meanings - Anaar symbolises the anarchism of the Bhils and kali which means flower bud in Hindi stands for their traditional environmentalism. Anaar in Hindi can also mean the fruit pomegranate which is said to be a panacea for many ills as in the Hindi idiom - "Ek anar sou bimar - One pomegranate for a hundred ill people"! - which describes a situation in which there is only one remedy available for giving to a hundred ill people and so the problem is who to give it to. Thus this name indicates that anarcho-environmentalism is the only cure for the many diseases of modern development! Similarly kali can also imply a budding anarcho-environmentalist movement. Finally according to a legend that is considered to be apocryphal by historians Anarkali was the lover of Prince Salim who was later to become the Mughal emperor Jehangir. Emperor Akbar did not approve of this romance of his son and ordered Anarkali to be bricked in alive into a wall in Lahore in Pakistan but she escaped. Allegorically this means that anarcho-environmentalists can succeed in bringing about the escape of humankind from the self-destructive love of modern development that it is enamoured of at the moment and they will do this by simultaneously supporting women's struggles for their rights.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Justice Delayed is Justice Denied

The Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath has fought many a battle for justice for the Adivasis of Alirajpur but possibly the most worthwhile and arduous one has been that it has fought for the victims of silicosis contracted as labourers in stone crushing factories in Gujarat. 90 per cent of the Adivasis of Alirajpur migrate to Gujarat to labour in factories, construction sites and agricultural fields as their agricultural income from their small farms is not sufficient to make ends meet. In the early 2000s the new millennium instead of ushering in a new dawn for the Adivasis brought on them a new pestilence of a fatal nature. The Adivasis working as daily wage labourers in stone crushing factories in Godhra and Balasinor in Gujarat, which were being run without proper equipment to ensure that the labourers did not inhale the dust generated from the stone crushing machines, began to fall fatally ill from silicosis due to the deposition of the fine stone particles in their lungs. Soon hundreds of labourers began falling ill and dying. Below is the picture of one such emaciated victim who has since died.

The KMCS took up the issue first with the Government of Madhya Pradesh and then with the Government of Gujarat. There was a furore and some regulation began of these killer factories but both the Governments were silent about compensation for those maimed and killed by silicosis.
The KMCS then took the battle further afield and contacted other organisations who were active in fighting to end the scourge of silicosis among stone crusher workers across India as this is a rampant phenomenon. It turned out that the Government of India and the state and central pollution control boards too were apathetic to the plight of the labourers affected by Silicosis. After five long years of campaigning it was decided to seek legal redress and a writ petition was filed in the Supreme Court of India in which KMCS was a petitioner along with other organisations seeking justice for the victims of silicosis across the country. The Supreme Court made this case W.P. (Civil) 110 of 2006 a test case for ensuring justice in the area of occupational health and especially the virulent neglect by the Government of the plight of victims of Silicosis. Many human rights lawyers of repute like Prashant Bhushan and Colin Gonsalves appeared for the petitioners. The Supreme Court after hearing all parties ordered the National Human Rights Commission to conduct a detailed enquiry into the situation of the victims of silicosis in Alirajpur and Jhabua districts. The KMCS as a petitioner played an active role in facilitating this enquiry on the ground.
The NHRC, after conducting the study, issued a recommendation in November 2010 that the Gujarat Government should pay a compensation of Rs 3,00,000 to the kin of each of the 238 Bhil tribals from Jhabua and Alirajpur districts who had died due to silicosis contracted while working in stone crusher units in Gujarat. However, the Gujarat Government after initial dilly dallying sent notices to the kin of the deceased that their complaints had been registered under the ESI Act and that they should come with all documents to the designated court to fight the case for compensation. This was in gross violation of the original basis of the Supreme Court order to the NHRC. The Supreme Court had reasoned that it was a gross dereliction of duty on the part of the Gujarat Government not to have regulated the stone crusher units, as it should have under the law and so it had a moral responsibility to compensate the kin of the illiterate and poor tribals who had died due to this governmental negligence. The NHRC then went back to the Supreme Court saying that the Gujarat Government was refusing to comply with its recommendations. A delegation from the KMCS also visited the Labour Secretary in Ahmedabad requesting him to comply with the NHRC recommendations but they too were fobbed off with the plea that the government had registered cases in the courts and that the victims should seek redressal there.
The NHRC had also recommended that the Madhya Pradesh Government should design and implement a rehabilitation package for the 304 tribals who are affected with silicosis but are still alive. The MP Government too did not comply in spirit with this recommendation by giving the affected Adivasis a special rehabilitation package and instead listed the benefits given to some of these Adivasis under ongoing social welfare schemes as its rehabilitation package.
Finally, on 3.5.2016, the Supreme Court passed an order directing the Government of Gujarat to pay Rs 3 lakhs to the kin of each of the victims identified by the NHRC without delay and report to it about action taken within a month.
Thus, after a decade long battle, finally the Adivasis will get some relief but it is a pyrrhic victory. If it was not for the mediation of the KMCS and other organisations across the country and pleading by noted human rights lawyers even this would not have been possible. Coming as it does after such a long delay primarily due to the fact that the Supreme Court is burdened with innumerable cases and given the intransigence of the Government of Gujarat, this relief has more symbolic than material value. Certainly something is very rotten in the State of India.

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