It is shocking to see that the sculptors engaged in making idols for the Tirumala-Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD) working in hazardous conditions, risking their lives. A visit to the Idol Production Centre (IPC) located on (SVISTA) premises on Alipiri Road reveals the appalling conditions in which 80 sculptors working are exposed to. They are working without wearing masks or protective apparel exposing them to hazardous stone dust.
The stone dust, which arises while the sculptors work on the statues, floats around the area. One could understand the gravity of the situation when one looks at the foliage which looks dusted with white powder. Imagine the amount the dust the sculptors have to breathe. The dust is posing health hazard to the people who walk past the sculpting centre. Parandhama Reddy, a sculptor engaged in the idol production centre for 20 years, said that they were at ease without masks revealing ignorance or apathy of the sculptors.
Sadly, the TTD authorities were not able to ensure this minimum but essential safety measure required to check the sculptor being exposed to the stone dust.“Though we are engaged by TTD for supplying idols, we are not getting any benefits except the amount fixed for each idol (piece rate). We are not entitled to medical facility in the TTD hospitals or darshan and prasadam. We are creating gods and goddesses for darshan of people but we have no darshan facilities like the TTD employees,'' said Parandhama Reddy.
Each sculptor will get about Rs 25000-30000, provided if he works daily for about 7-8 hours in a month and no other benefit, he explained. TTD deputy executive engineer Suresh, who is in-charge of the production centre, claimed that they were doing their best to ensure that the sculptors wear masks but their efforts went in vain as the sculptors were not showing interest.
Regarding medical facilities, he said in emergency situations like a sculptor suffering injuries during work gets treated in TTD hospital. “Recently we have conducted free check for sculptors. We want to make it a regular exercise. We also provided masks free of cost,” he said. On the measures to avoid the dust spreading and polluting the environment, he said the TTD was yet to examine it for taking remedial measure.
On other demands of the sculptors, Suresh said TTD was not bound to provide any other facilities as they are piece rate sculptors. “We supply them stones for making idol and pay for each piece of idol creation. TTD is providing stone idols free of cost to the temples in SC\ST colonies and to others on 75 percent subsidy,” he said. Dr Aruna, professor of chest diseases, said that exposure to the stone dust would lead to affliction of silicosis disease.
“In the initial stage, the person afflicted with silicosis suffers slow cough, breathlessness and wheeze. Next stage, he will be unable to walk or do anything and will suffer from massive chest pain. If no treatment is taken then it will ultimately lead to death,” said Dr Aruna. Regular health check and wearing protective mask was a must to avoid the disease, she said. “There is a possibility of those washing the clothes of the sculptors would also be at risk of getting chest diseases,” she cautioned.