Maharashtra: Workplace Death of Construction Labourers Triggers Unrest
Pune: On February 3, in Yerwada’s Shastrinagar, seven construction labourers lost their lives due to an accident at their place of work. They were working at a multi-floored building when a slab collapsed on them, and these labourers falls on an iron net. After the tragic incident, from the Prime Minister to Chief Minister of Maharashtra, all sent their condolences. For these labourers, more than mere condolences, workplace security is most important and only the administration can provide it.
Maharashtra has India's most thriving real estate industry, especially in Mumbai and suburban areas as well as Pune and the surrounding area. So, the labourers, mainly from states like Jharkhand, Odisha, Chattisgarh and a part of Bihar are attracted in large numbers to these construction sites. In recent years, the number of accidents has increased due to multiple reasons. The main reason is that the labourers are not provided proper security at the workplace even while they work in such high-risk conditions.
“It is the responsibility of the developer to provide proper security to labourers. But at the same time, it is the duty of the labour department in the local municipal body to keep a watch on whether the developer provides security equipment and takes precautionary measures or not. In Pune's case, it was the duty of the city’s labour commissioner. But they are ignoring their duty and hapless labourers are paying the price," says B Yuvraj, president of Shramik Hakka Andolan.
To protest against the administration's apathy, construction labourers led by Yuvraj, Centre of India Trade Union (CITU) state secretary Vasant Pawar and Nav Samajwadi Paryay's Sagar Chandane took out a march in Pune. This protest march submitted a memorandum to Pune’s labour commissioner with a number of demands:
1. To break the nexus of builders, developers, officers and contractors, the labour department must come up with a vigilance mechanism.
2. Yerwada incident to be investigated and officers who ignored safety measures inspection must be held guilty.
3. Every time, before clearing the project, it must be seen whether all the labourers are registered with the labour welfare board. If they are not registered, then the permission for development shall be stalled.
4. Family of every dead labourer must get Rs 25 lakh as compensation.
Notably, to take care of these labourers, there exists a Maharashtra Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Board. It is one of the richest watchdog bodies as builders and developers are asked to contribute one per cent of their construction value to the board. There are 12 lakh labourers registered with this board. But, trade unionists believe that these are only 20% of the total strength of labourers in the state.
“The registration process of these labourers is complicated. Unions have demanded to make it easy but the government purposely ignored it under the pressure of the builder lobby. Because once the labourer is registered then there are welfare compulsions on builders as well as the State government. Both of them try to avoid it,” said Uday Bhat, trade unionist and former representative of labourers on the board.
The Pune incident is not a freak event. There have been more than 20 such accidents in the last year. Yuvraj also claims that as many such accidents went unnoticed as the builder lobby does not care for the lives of labourers. Not just in Pune, the story is almost similar in Mumbai and Thane also. Recently, there was an accident in Kalyan's Kolsewadi area where a labourer lost his right leg permanently. As he was not registered with the board, there are hurdles in getting compensation. His labour contractor gave 3 lakh rupees to him from the builder.
"It has come to notice that despite continuous follow up with the labour department as well as at local bodies, things are not changing. Accidents are taking place across the state. The main reason for this is ignorance of safety measures for labourers. This is why we are discussing with our colleagues across the state to protest in Mumbai over this," said DL Karad, national vice president of CITU.
Construction labourers are the backbone of this industry. Real estate is the golden goose of Mumbai's economy. But, the safety of labourers is always ignored in tally sheets of mega developers and builders. Only a strong, united protest can force to change government and builder lobby.
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