New Delhi: Claiming that the responsibility for the building fire in West Delhi’s Mundka, which killed at least 27 workers, “lies more with the Delhi government than company owners,” city trade unions on Thursday called to gherao the residence of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on June 2.
In a press conference held at the office of Indian Women Press Corps on Thursday, the union leaders also demanded resignation of Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia from the charge of state labour and employment departments, along with that of Raja Iqbal Singh, the mayor of the North Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC).
The conference was called jointly by INTUC, AITUC, HMS, CITU, AIUTUC, TUCC, SEWA, AICCTU, LPF, UTUC, MEC, ICTU, and IFTU.
“How can political leaders escape from their responsibilities and accountability towards the growing fire incidents in Delhi that are killing workers?” asked Anurag Saxena, state general secretary of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU). “Recent incidents clearly show that there is a common pattern of criminal negligence on the part of the various government agencies,” he said in the press conference.
A three-story building on Rohtak Road in West Delhi’s Mundka was gutted in a fire caused by a purported short circuit last Friday. It eventually turned into the worst fire accident that the national capital has witnessed in the last several years.
Initial probe has revealed that the blaze broke out on the building’s first floor, which was among the two floors rented out to a manufacturer of CCTV cameras and Wi-Fi routers. There was a possible violation of civic norms that has deemed commercial activities, apart from those involving small shops, on village lands, commonly referred to as Lal Dora land, as non-conforming.
Friday’s blaze has also brought the legality of the building under scanner as it was revealed in the media that there was no clearance given to its plan by the civic authorities.
On Thursday, trade unions raised questions over the persistent cases of non-regulation and non-compliance in labour laws, which according to them, are among the main causes behind soaring industrial fire accidents in the city.
In the last five years, the city has witnessed three deadly fire incidents in which 77 people in total lost their lives. 17 people were dead after a firecracker warehouse in North Delhi’s Bawana witnessed a massive fire in 2018. The next year, 17 more were killed as fire engulfed several storeys of a hotel in Central Delhi’s Karol Bagh. Months later, a major blaze in North Delhi’s Anaj Mandi claimed the lives of 43 people.
During the same period, not even a single meeting of the labour department over industrial safety, in which a delegation of trade unions is invited, has been called, Saxena informed on Thursday.
The unions also alleged on Thursday that the actual causalities in the Mundka fire incident are “much more than claimed.” As per what has been revealed to them by the survivors and local people during their fact finding, the said figure is “close to 100.”
“No proper registers were maintained by the company, nor is their any record with the ESI of the total number of workers who were employed. In such a case, there is a good reason to believe that the number of casualties are under reported,” alleged Narayan Singh of the Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS).
He added that the investigations in the matter must be completed at the earliest and that the responsible owners, officials, and politicians must be charged with an “exemplary punishment”.
Meanwhile, the unions on Thursday also cited the Mundka blaze incident to express their fear over the implementation of the four central Labour Codes that have been flayed for diluting the existing labour provisions, including those relating to the workplace safety.
“Exactly when such regulations must be strengthened, the Modi government is implementing the Labour Codes and giving a green signal to the factory owners to do business the way they like. However, this is happening at the cost of the workers’ lives,” Sucheta De of All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU) said.
In 2021, the Union Labour Ministry informed the Parliament that at least 6,500 employees died on duty at factories, ports, mines, and construction sites in the last five years with over 80% of the fatalities reported in factory settings between 2014 and 2018. Factory deaths rose by 20% between 2017 and 2018.
The existing Factories Act stipulates that establishments must follow certain safety norms in case 10 or more employees are employed and the production process involved the use of power; in case of no usage of power, the threshold is that of 20 employees. However, the Code on Occupational Safety, Health, and Working Conditions increases this threshold to 20 employees and 40 employees, respectively.