The Rajasthan High Court issued notice to the state government on a public suit demanding protection to mineworkers from silicosis.
The public interest litigation (PIL), filed by an NGO, Health, Environment and Development Consortium (HEDCON), pleaded that the labor force needed to be protected from silicosis, which is rife due to the inaction of the state government and the malpractice of the mine owners.
"We had examined the health of 151 mineworkers suspected to have silicosis in late 2005. Of these, 70 were certified by a medical practitioner to be suffering from silicosis," Mahitosh Bagoria, the joint director of HEDCON, said in the PIL.
"These degrees of prevalence would suggest the number of persons likely to be suffering from silicosis in Rajasthan at between 198,000 and 666,000," the PIL said.
In 1996, another NGO, Gramin Vikas Vigyan Samiti (GRAVIS), in collaboration with Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA) had conducted a medical survey of the mineworkers in the sandstone mines in Jodhpur.
Out of the 288 workers examined, 39 were found to be suffering from silicosis with high severity, 80 with less severity and 162 did not have silicosis or were mild cases.
There are more than 12,000 mines and around 20,000 quarries registered in Rajasthan. In addition, there are thousands of unofficial mines.
According to the National Commission of Labour, there are approximately 2 million mineworkers in the state.
Silicosis is an incurable lung disease caused by inhalation of dust containing free crystalline silica. Its symptoms include cough, with or without sputum, shortness of breath, particularly on exertion, and chest tightness.
Silicosis can remain latent for a long period of time, and is often not radiographically detectable until after 20 years, despite persistent symptoms. Thus, the true extent of silicosis in Rajasthan may not be fully ascertainable.
Rajasthan is a leading state in India when it comes to quarrying and mining, mainly for rock phosphate, lignite, limestone and gypsum.