A 24-year old worker died in a factory in Northwest Delhi’s Swaroop Nagar, while another sustained burn injuries after a fire broke out on the first floor of a helmet manufacturing unit on the night of December 25.
A senior official from the Delhi Fire Service said, “A call about fire was received at 9.25 pm, and 13 fire tenders were rushed to the spot. The fire was brought under control by 12.10 am.” The victim, identified as Devender, from Uttar Pradesh’s Shahjahanpur, was rushed to the Safdarjung Hospital where he was declared brought dead, while the injured, Jitender, sustained 20 per cent burn injuries.
The factory building that caught fire, was operating on rent. As per The Indian Express report, “The premises was taken on rent under the name of the officer’s wife, and the son used to look into the day-to-day operations. Both have been named in the FIR registered under IPC sections 304-(A) (causing death by negligence), 336 (act endangering life or personal safety of others) and 285 (negligent conduct with respect to fire or combustible matter.” However, the Delhi Police are yet to ascertain the cause of the incident.
When the fire broke out, the three workers were sleeping inside the unit, and were caught unaware, following which two of them jumped off the terrace and escaped while the third one died. One of the two, who had managed to escape, had went gone to get his phone, and sustained burn injuries.
Delhi factories have turned into hellholes engulfing one worker after another in blazing fires, mostly due to lack of safety measures. In January, around 17 workers were charred to death when fire broke out in an unauthorised firecracker unit in Bawana Industrial Area. The workers included seven women including a pregnant woman.
Speaking to Newsclick, Vipin, Delhi State Committee member, Centre of India Trade Unions (CITU), said, “The government has failed us. After the major Bawana incident, many other fire incidents have taken place in Bawana and in other factories. There are no safety measures for workers. Kejriwal government has not done anything but outrightly neglected the issue. These factories fall under the unregulated small industries sector, and operate in unauthorised areas.”
As per the recent figures, 28 workers have reportedly died in factory fires until April 2018, this year. The numbers allude to the deplorable conditions of workers, which are mostly ignored by the state administration.
Speaking to Newsclick, Anurag Saxena, general secretary of the Delhi unit of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) had recently said, “These illegal units tend to operate on extremely small premises. It is not even possible to install the fire safety measures required by the law. Because of the callous attitude of government such tragic incidents continue. Procedures of inspection and implementation are weak. Officials are corrupt, and often ignore violations.”
Besides, workers who risk their lives working in these factories are paid paltry wages – lower than the minimum wage – making it difficult for them to run their families. Moreover, the workers are expected to work overtime, for up to 12 hours in a day. In a report by International Labour Organization (ILO), nearly “77 per cent of Indian workers will be engaged in vulnerable employment by 2019”.
Vulnerable employment, as the name suggests, attributes to meagre earnings (below minimum wages), and difficult and insecure working conditions (long working hours, contractual workers who can fired at any time), unsafe working environments and complete violation of labour laws. Newsclick had recently reported that around 1.4 billion workers fall under the vulnerable employment in 2017, and an additional 17 million are expected to join in 2018-19.
“These are a few of the demands we are raising on January 8-9 – the fire safety measures and adequate wages for workers. We have resolved to confront the government with collective resistance,” said Vipin. A call for two-day general strike has been given by 10 central trade unions and independent federations on January 8, and 9, 2019. The strike is aimed to challenge Modi government’s attempts to dilute the labour laws. The strike will also raise important issues like paltry wages of workers, land allotment to poor farmers, loan waivers, working conditions of labourers.
Ashok Dhawale, president of All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) recently told Newsclick, “The bandh in rural India along with the trade union strike would unite the farmers and workers to challenge the pro-corporate, anti-people regime of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).”