Stone quarry workers trapped in delays, litigation

Suhail Bhat
Srinagar, Jan 18:   Despite 23 Central legislations and three State enactments, Jammu and Kashmir is unable to rehabilitate or compensate the stone quarry workers who either died or were rendered disabled while working in these quarries.
At least 20 stone quarry labourers have so far been killed and 70 disabled.
The State law machinery has failed to provide ‘just and favourable condition’ and are unable to maintain international standards to ‘minimize the cause of occupational injuries and illness’ to the stone quarry workers at Pantha Chowk and surrounding areas in the outskirts of Srinagar. The labourers at these queries can be seen toiling hard without any safety gear like helmets, leg guards or shin pads and goggles.
They receive little or no training and are often forced to work longer hours and face threat of dismissal if they refuse. “I was loading a truck when a stone slipped and it rammed over me and my uncle. My uncle died at the spot while as I survived with multiple fractures on my leg. I have been fighting for disability welfare from past eight years,” said Abdul Rasheed, 35, a labourer.
Mohammad Shafi, who is an expert in setting explosives off, said that while setting an explosion he slipped and broke his right hand. “I went to my owner but he told me to stay away or he will kill me”.
An official at Labour Commission said the problem with these cases is that they come under un-organised sector where the social security schemes like ESIC and Provident Fund do not apply.
Law experts said that under Company Act it’s binding on the employer to insure his employee and provide safety measure like helmet and leg guards. “And for the high risk jobs like stone breaking and setting up explosives there shall be proper training and special safety gear to minimise the risk”, they said.
“The labourer can sue the employer if not provided these benefits. There is no time bar for filling the complaint under Motor Vehicle Act. They can file their complaint anytime they want,” Tufail Ahmad, a senior lawyer said, adding “normally in such cases we file complaints under two acts Workmen Compensation Act and Motor Transport Workers Act, 1961.
“In most of such cases the injury takes place while loading the stones so we file majority of the cases under Motor Transport Workers Act.  But problem with such cases is that they are time consuming,” he said, adding: “You cannot avert the process; there are too many stakeholders- insurance company, owner and labourer- and everyone has to be satisfied.”
Abdul Basit, another lawyer, said under Workmen Compensa-tion Act powers are given to the Labour Commission where they can check the working condition of the labourer and whether proper safety measures are taken or not. “They also have to provide proper guidance to the labourers so that they can avail the benefits of the various schemes meant for them,” he said.

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