OBSERVING THAT death of a construction worker cannot be ignored “simply because he belongs to the poorest strata of the society”, a magistrate’s court, in a rare order, recently sentenced a contractor to one year in jail for not providing a safety net at a building site.
On January 10, 2014, the victim, Manojkumar Gaud, who was working at a redevelopment project on Grant Road, had slipped on wet concrete and fallen from the eighth floor of the building after the safety belt he was wearing broke. There was no safety net around the site to break his fall.
“It is well known that India’s construction industry provides employment to countless people. But there is a darker side. The sector has scant regard for the safety of workers… Every year, hundreds of workers either fall to their deaths or are buried under rubble. Workers prioritise their employment, even at the risk of their safety. They usually choose to keep quiet about unsafe conditions because they need the job and the salary,” metropolitan magistrate Anushree Rahane said in her order.
“Human life is precious and death of a construction worker, which is not natural, cannot be ignored simply because he belongs to the poorest strata of society”, the magistrate said.
The prosecution, led by Gamdevi Police, had claimed that the safety belt provided to the victim was of such poor quality that it could not even bear his weight. “The very fact that the safety belt broke and the deceased was thrown off the eighth floor shows that the accused had not taken due care and caution while providing proper safety equipment to the deceased. Sending a worker to the eighth floor without giving proper safety gear and net is equivalent to inviting for sure a future tragic mishap,” the court said in its order earlier this week.
As per the Building and Other Constructions Workers’ (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Central Rules, 1998, a contractor is duty-bound to comply with requirements for the safety of construction workers.
The accused, Chetan Rangani, 25, through his lawyer, had submitted that there was no written contract submitted by the police to show that the victim worked on the site. “This argument is not tenable because such written contracts are hardly prepared in a majority of the construction work in India,” the court said.
It relied on other evidence, including the police probe, which showed that the rope provided to the victim was short and there was no safety net that could have helped him survive the fall. The court held that it is proved beyond doubt that Gaud’s death is a “direct result” of the fall caused by the breaking of the sub-standard safety belt provided by the accused. It rejected the defence’s contention that the victim was himself negligent.
Even as the accused sought leniency, the court held that it is necessary to give a sentence which can be deterrent, “so that human lives will be more valued and cared for”. Apart from the one-year sentence, the court also directed the accused to pay a fine of Rs 25,000, of which Rs 20,000 is directed to be paid to the victim’s family as compensation.