Victims of ignorance
The Gujarat unit of People's Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL) recently filed a petition in the High Court of Gujarat against the state government, the commissioner of industries and chief factory inspector of Gujarat alleging the failure of chemical and pharmaceutical industries in Ankleshwar to disclose information about the dangers related to the production, transport and storage of hazardous chemicals.
The PUCL recently brought out a report which says that almost none of the "its in this industrial town - which is Asia's largest chemical and pharmaceutical estate - has my system of informing either the residents or the workers about the risks they face every day. Accidents occur frequently but the factories get away even though the violations are so obvious. Workers have been deliberately kept in the dark about the occupational hazards so that they do not associate accidents with the material they handled.
The Factories Act (section 41-B) calls for compulsory disclosure of information by such industries and provides for imprisonment for up to seven years and a penalty of up to Rs 2 lakh for non-compliance with the law. Though some units boast of excellent on-site emergency plans, hardly any worker or resident knows what to do in case of an emergency. The Ankleshwar estate employs more than one lakh people. It has no green belt between the industrial and residential areas where most of the workers, technicians, scientists and managers live. Experts say that 30 per cent of the diseases commonly found in the estate, such as chrome ulcer, dermatitis, burning sensations in the body and common cold, are related to the patients' occupation.
Officials in Vadodara and Bharuch factory inspectorates admitted that awareness levels were very low among workers and the public. They claimed that even the factory inspectorate was unsure of the emergency plans of the units.