While the state government has ordered a shut down to prevent further spread of COVID-19, construction workers in Mumbai continue to work in the absence of safety measures.
With 19 cases being reported in Mumbai and neighbouring areas, construction workers said to be the most vulnerable working at various projects have not found any mention in government directives.
Currently, while over 400 road repair works are going on in Mumbai, the BMC has also undertaken drainage and bridge works. Besides, several other works are in progress where thousands of labourers, civic engineers and supervisors work round the clock.
On March 16, BMC had instructed all its officials and contractors to work for 24 hours to complete projects before monsoon. The idea of working round the clock was initiated due to reduced traffic following the shut down, said officials. However, no safety measures are being taken at these construction sites against COVID-19.
“I get frantic calls from my hometown in Bihar. They are worried, as they see news on TV about coronavirus. We are also scared to work but since there are instructions from our supervisors to finish the work on time, we cannot do much. We don’t have any other way of earning so cannot skip work. Also, my family in Bihar is completely dependent on me,” said a labourer working at a road repair site in Ghatkopar.
Asked what safety measures have been taken, the labourer said they have not received any such instruction. “We don’t know about masks and hand sanitisers. We are working without gloves or masks.”
The Indian Express visited at least two road repair sites – at Fort where MG Road was being repaired and at Chembur — and found labourers working without any protection. “We are not important for the authorities. When we got to know that offices are being asked to work at 50 per cent capacity, we discussed the matter with our supervisor. But he said it is not applicable to us and if our work is not finished before monsoon, penalty will be imposed,” said a labourer at Fort.
Labour activist Prakash Reddy said whatever may be the reason behind continuing with the work, labourers at least should get better safety equipment. “Those working on development projects should be provided safety equipment like masks and hand sanitisers. Also, if they are not provided protection and in case of any labourer gets infected, then official concerned should be held responsible,” he added.
Civic engineers, who are the site in charges, are also a harried lot. “After school and private offices were asked to shut down, my family went to our hometown. Now, they are asking me to return. However, I cannot go as I have to finish the project before monsoon,” said an engineer working on a drain construction project.
At a few project sites, many labourers have left for their hometowns. A civic official said that some contractors have alleged that they are not able to speed up work due to shortage of labourers. A member of All Municipal Civil Contractors Association said, “Our office and site employees are reluctant to continue work. Safety of our staff is equally important and therefore, we have requested the civic authorities to shut down construction operations temporarily.”
Work on BMC’s ambitious coastal road project is also going on in full speed. “The entire city has been put into a semi-lockdown, but work on BMC’s coastal road project continues merrily with a lines of trucks dumping at Haji Ali. It is shameful that BMC blatantly disobeys its own orders,” said activist Zoru Bhathena.
A senior BMC official said that development works need to be finished before monsoon. However, the civic body will soon decide on ongoing construction project following the fresh orders from the government today, he added. Asked about lack of safety measures at these project sites, the official claimed all site in-charges have been asked to ensure safety of the labourers.
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