The Gems and Jewellery Export Promotion Council (GJEPC) has decided to set up a common cutting and polishing facility to combat the deadly silicosis disease afflicting most of the workers in agate industry in Khambhat town of Kheda district.
Agate, which is a silicate quartz, is shaped and polished into beads and other decorative items. This industry has been in operation for generations in Khambhat region of the State.
Grinding and polishing of agate stones generates large amount of dust containing particles of size 2-5 micron, mostly free silica, which, when inhaled, reaches alveoli of lungs, causing silicosis, a deadly disease.
The people who shape and polish the stones mostly work at home-based workshops that are unregulated and hence have no access to occupational health services or workers’ compensation when they fall ill.
“The agate works are mainly poor people working from their or their contractor’s home to polish and cut the stones.
This causes health problems like silicosis as the dust from stones enters their lungs,” regional chairman of GJEPC Gujarat, Chandrakant Sanghvi told PTI.
“It is for this reason that we have decided to build a common cutting and polishing facility for the workers. This facility would be well-ventilated, which would decrease the health risks for the workers,” he said.
“We are in talks with the Gujarat government for land to build the common facility, which will also have modern equipments,” Sanghavi said.
During the Annual Export Awards ceremony of the Council, held recently in Surat, its chairman Rajiv Jain had said that GJEPC would soon initiate work in Khambhat to combat silicosis disease that afflicts most of the workers, who cut and polish agate.
“The Council plans to adopt better technological methods of cutting and polishing to improve the working conditions there,” Jain had said.
Jagdish Patel of Peoples Training and Research Centre (PTRC), working on occupational safety and health, said that the exact number of workers suffering from silicosis could not be ascertained, as they hardly go for medical check-ups or get proper diagnosis.
According to a study conducted by Vadodara-based PTRC recently, child labour was also common in the agate industry of Khambhat.
The study found that 10 per cent out of the over 4,500 agate workers, who participated in the study, were in age group of 6-18 years.
Being an unorganised sector, the agate workers are exploited and paid less than the minimum wage fixed by the State government. They also do not get any benefits under the Factory’s Act or Workmen Compensation Act, as they are unable to establish employee-employer relationship, the study further claimed.