ISLAMABAD: The Supreme court on Saturday sought reports from all secretaries of the Labor & Human Resource departments, Commissioner Gujranwala and Director Generals of Environmental Protection Agencies within two weeks in the suo moto case on the death of 18 stone-crushing labourers in Gujranwala.
Tassaduq Hussain Jillani, the former chief justice of Pakistan, had taken notice of their deaths on his last day in office on July 5, The Express Tribune has learnt.
Earlier, two young members of the Public Lawyer’s Front (PLF), namely Usama Khawar and Yahya Faird Khawaja, moved an application to the chief justice under Article 184(3) of the Constitution over the deaths of the labourers.
They requested to direct provincial governments to frame rules regulating occupations involving stone crushing and the hazardous emission of silica dust.
“Work at the factory entails the feeding of stones into the grinding machine to break them into smaller stones, ultimately grinding the stones into a powdered form. In this process, due to the absence of a dust control mechanism, a dust cloud is raised in the premises of the factory,” the petitioner argued.
The application further stated that, “Working in this dust cloud, the laborers mix the powdered stone with the help of shovels with boric acid, and then pack the mixture with their hands and shovels into bags for distribution. The shoveling of powdered silica with boric acid, again, raises a massive dust storm causing the workers to further inhale the silica powder, due to lack of effective protective mechanisms.”
The application also said that the deceased laborers made repeated requests to the factory owners for protective mechanisms. However, neither were they provided with any effective protective gear, such as masks which would protect them from inhaling the silica powder, nor did the factory owners install any dust control equipment that could shield the laborers from the deadly dust.
The applicant also furnished names of the 18 young laborers who died in Gujranwala due to the incurable disease silicosis. Of the 18, nine laborers were from one village in Gujranwala.
Safdar Ali from Gujranwala was the latest casualty to silicosis in the area. He succumbed to silicosis three weeks ago. His brother had also succumbed to the incurable disease last year.
The petitioner claimed that due to working in stone crushing factories, more than 100 laborers had died due to silicosis in Dera Ghazi Khan and other regions of Punjab in recent years.
“No legal heirs of the victims have been provided [with] any compensation by the factory owners or by the provincial governments,” it said.
The application also said that it has been reported that hundreds of factories are running countrywide, and thousands of labourers are working in such conditions which expose them to silicosis. Moreover, these factories are located in residential areas and are exposing the citizens to the disease as well.
It was also noted that the Supreme Court of India has already taken cognizance of the prevalence of silicosis laborers involved in stone crushing, and has given extensive directions in this regard.
The applicants had requested the SC to form a commission headed by an eminent environmentalist and labour expert, as well as comprising experts from the relevant government departments and civil society members.
The commission should be directed to inquire the number of fatalities that have resulted directly from the contraction of occupational diseases in stone crushing factories as well as precautionary measures, if any, adopted by stone crushing factories to prevent the contraction of the occupational diseases by their employees.
The commission should also be assigned with holding government officials as well as government departments responsible and liable for failing to protect the employees of the stone crushing factories from contracting occupational diseases, and failing to ensure that all due precautions are taken against the harmful effects of stone crushing, through criminal negligence or through non-performance of their statutory duties.
“Initiate and pursue criminal proceedings against the responsible and liable persons and take administrative action against liable persons and entities,” the application adds.
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