Just a month ago, Ikhtar Shaikh (21) had come to Mumbai from a small village in Jharkhand. “The contractor had promised to pay me Rs 600 a week. I have worked for over 15 days, but am still waiting for the money,” he said.
Shaikh was one of the eight men, who had been injured after falling from the 16th floor, as a scaffolding collapsed at Balkum pada in Thane on Monday. “I was near the eighth floor, when the pole I was standing on tumbled and fell. The next thing I knew, I was on the ground,” he recounted while resting in the male ward of the Thane Civil Hospital.
Some workers like Ikhtar did not have any prior experience in painting and had been sent at a height without any safety gear. According to Ikhtar, he knew how to climb trees and thus, opted for the job. He had never even heard of harnesses. “The experienced men were sent up and the novices were kept near the ground. But no one had any helmet,” he said.
Around 12 men, hired by the contractor, Dada Kumbhar, were called to bring down a scaffolding at Runwal Garden city on Monday. “The scaffolding had been put up a year ago for painting and had remained there as it is. The workers were on the scaffolding when it collapsed,” said an officer from Kapurbawdi, where an FIR had been filed against the contractor for causing hurt.
Sitting with his brother-in-law, Ikhtar said: “I had come to Mumbai looking for a job. Now my heel is severely injured and I have internal injuries on my back and waist. I don’t know what work I will get, once I get out.”
His concerns were shared by Dulal Shaikh, another worker who fell from the ninth floor. “We were all on different levels of the scaffolding. I fell on several bamboo poles one after the other. If I had fallen on the ground at one go, I would have broken my neck,” Dulal said. He is suffering from broken arms and several abrasions and has been shifted out of the intensive care unit on Tuesday morning.
Two men, who were visiting Dulal, were on the ground when the incident took place. They recounted what happened.
“Several people were undoing the cords that put up the scaffolding. Someone near the fifth or sixth floor unfastened the chord sooner than required, making the structure wobbly. Then, near the seventh floor, a pole that couldn’t bear the weight splintered and the entire structure caved in,” one of the two men said on condition of anonymity. The other man added, “We moved away, clearing the ground below and the bamboo poles kept falling like cards. Some of the men fell on the bamboo poles, whereas others fell on those men.”
Out of the eight injured, at least five had critical injuries and had been admitted to various private hospitals. “I don’t know the men enough to recount their names, but I saw two men bleeding profusely before I passed out. The contractor came yesterday and told us that some of them had lost limbs,” Ikhtar said.
However, the Kapurbawdi police did not make any arrest on Tuesday. “We are waiting to take statements from most of the injured victims. While four of them are still critical, we are waiting for them to be stable,” said an officer.
Meanwhile, the residents of the Runwal Garden City claimed that the bamboos were supposed to be removed almost six months ago. “We had demanded that the scaffolding be removed last year. The contractor had assured us that it will be done after the summer vacations. But it didn’t happen,” said Samyukta Karnik, a resident of the building. She added, “The bamboo poles and the strings tying them together had probably rotten. If it was left like that any longer, it could have fallen on the head of unsuspecting people walking around.”
Both Ikhtar and Dulal are now worried about getting jobs in the future.
“The doctors don’t say how long it will take for us to get out of the hospital. Once we do get out, finding jobs with any injury is difficult. I need to send money to my family in my village in West Bengal every month. Now, I don’t know if I will have any money to send henceforth,” Dulal said.