A 16-year-old labourer of Dalmia Bharat Sugar and Industries Limited, in Uttar Pradesh’s Sitapur district, died on Thursday after allegedly falling approximately 40 feet from the floor of the broiler.
The deceased, Atul Sharma, son of Sushil Sharma, a native of Mahsui village, was cleaning the boiler along with his father and others, according to locals. He fell while descending the staircase to go to the washroom and lost consciousness. He was immediately rushed to a hospital where he was declared brought dead.
Atul’s family has filed a police complaint of negligence against the contractor and the site supervisor, accusing them of not providing adequate safety gear to the labourers.
Atul, who had joined the mill four years ago to supplement his father’s meagre income, “fell to his death in front of” Sushil. “He fell while I was working on the other floor of the factory,” Sushil told the police.
“We are verifying the claims of the deceased’s father. We will record the statements of his co-workers and decide our course of action,” an officer told Newsclick.
However, the mill’s general manager Arif Beg denied Sushil’s claim that Atul was working in the mill. Even the mill’s contractor Krishnapal claimed that Atul was working under him for the last three months. “He marked his daily attendance in my register. How could he have been working here?” he asked.
VIOLATION OF CHILD LABOUR LAW
The Child Labour Amendment (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 2016, prohibits employment of a child (a person who has not completed 14 years or such age as may be specified in the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009) or an adolescent (a person who is 14 years of age but has not completed 18 years).
Despite sustained efforts by the district authorities and several NGOs fighting child labour, minor boys and girls in hundreds are employed with small and medium industrial units in the state.
This is the second time that a labourer has died or sustained serious injuries after falling from a height at the mill. Recently, a labourer from Bihar, who too was without any safety gear, was seriously injured after falling from 30-40 metres.
“It is evident the administration supports the capitalists, not the poor. Every two to three years, such incidents occur in the factory. But no one cares,” Umesh Pandey, a social activist and Bharatiya Kisan Union (Tikait faction) member based in Sitapur who visited the spot, told Newsclick.
When asked about the working hours at the mill, the wages and how Atul was employed there despite being a minor, Pandey said the dire financial condition of the family forced him to join the mill. “He was paid Rs 150 for working around 6-7 hours per day. The mill neither pays the minimum wages nor has proper working conditions,” he claimed.
Under the banner of CPI-ML, Pandey and other trade union members had raised the problem of child labour for many years, but the administration didn’t act. “The contractors who supply labour to the sugar mill or other factories hire villagers in dire need of money so that they don’t demand minimum wages, safety equipment or health insurance,” he alleged.
The labourers and trade unions have warned of an agitation if Atul’s family is not paid suitable compensation and the accused are not arrested immediately.
The mill management has offered Rs 2 lakh compensation and a contractual job to anyone in his family, according to the villagers, who also alleged that the authorities persuaded Sushil to not speak against child labour and the mill.
“The factory is trying to cover up the problem of child labour. Besides, the family too hasn’t raised the problem under the mill management’s influence,” villager Virendra Yadav told Newsclick.
Dinkar Kapoor, president of Workers Front, said, “Minors are not only working in sugar mills but are also employed by hotels and other factories. When permanent workers don’t get adequate safety equipment, how can you expect them for minors?” he told Newsclick.