Funds Meant for the Dying Used for Development?

News Central | Rosamma Thomas | Sep 19, 2019
Rs 2248 crore accumulated DMF funds in Rajasthan, but utilisation mostly for roads, construction.

The District Mineral Foundation Trusts were formed with the aim of putting in place funds and processes that would aid those affected by mining and help in restoration of lands laid waste by mines. The Rajasthan government notified the rules of these trusts in 2016 and set up district foundations in each of its 33 districts. The website of the state DMF shows that Rs 2248.31 crore has been collected by the DMFs in the state; this is drawn from the royalty that the mines pay to the government.

However, a perusal of the utilisation of these funds in the different districts shows that the bulk of the money is being used for construction – for building healthcare facilities or laying roads. In Bhilwara district, for instance, where a large number of workers are affected by silicosis, the incurable lung disease that afflicts mine workers after silica dust lodges in their lungs, 34 per cent of the funds were used for developing physical infrastructure and 25 per cent for provision of drinking water.

The Comptroller and Auditor General had earlier pointed to how the collections meant for the DMF were not being used judiciously and underlined the need to create a separate account sub-head for DMFT contributions. As of March 2018, CAG found an accumulated Rs 498 crore lying idle in a non-interest bearing personal deposit of the Department of Mining and Geology, leaving district trusts deprived, Down To Earth magazine reported.

Rana Sengupta of the Mine Labourers Protection Campaign, Jodhpur, says, “Physical infrastructure and drinking water provision should be made from the general budget, ideally. The DMF funds should be dedicated to the welfare of those suffering because of mining operations and for restoration of the land.”

At a recent meeting in the state capital, Dr Kamlesh Sarkar of the National Institute of Occupational Health, Ahmedabad, explained that he had found a scientific way in which silicosis could be detected early, by tracking the club cell protein in serum. In a healthy adult, the reading is 16.7 nanogram per millilitre, and as the disease progresses this count drops. The doctor explained that if the disease is caught early, deterioration of the lungs can be prevented by ensuring that the patient is no longer exposed to the dust. Dr Sarkar needed Rs 1.23 crore to confirm his findings through a five-year study, but had not been able to manage the funds.

In July this year, the Centre approved the merger of the National Institute of Miners Health, Nagpur, with the National Institute of Occupational Health, Ahmedabad. Activist Rana Sengupta says, “There is a more urgent need now for a special institute dedicated to the study of silicosis. The government of Rajasthan has put in place measures for compensating patients diagnosed with the condition, but we need now to ensure proper prevention. And for that, it would be ideal if a centre for silicosis were set up by the state government. It could come up either within the Desert Medicine Research Centre or All India Institute of Medical Sciences, both of which are in Jodhpur. Such a centre would also create knowledge that would be useful for patients suffering from the disease in other states.”

At a recent meeting with CM Ashok Gehlot, activists urged the chief minister to set up a research centre dedicated to silicosis at the state level even if support was not forthcoming from the Centre.