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NGOs voice concern over workers’ deaths at CWG sites

The alarming number of deaths of construction workers in absence of proper safety norms and adequate compensation has become a cause of concern.

Written by Agencies | New Delhi |
October 26, 2009 1:51:23 pm

With the national capital furiously gearing up to meet the deadlines of the Commonwealth Games,the alarming number of deaths of construction workers in absence of proper safety norms and adequate compensation is a cause of concern,say social activists.

The actual number of accidents and casualties are much more but many such cases never get reported,they add.

Fifty nine construction workers were killed and 115 suffered serious injuries in the city during the year 2008-2009,according to Commonwealth Games Citizens for Workers,Women and Children (CWG-CWC),an independent agency,which documents fatalities amongst construction workers in the capital.

“Workers on CWG are being made to work 12 hours at a stretch to meet the deadlines,which is a complete violation of the Construction workers act of 1996 which recommends a 48 hour working cycle per week,” says Subhash Bhatanagar,who heads Nirman Mazdoor Panchayat Sangam (NMPS),a NGO.

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“Unlike metro rail construction sites,deaths at other CWG sites are in isolated place and mostly unreported. According to our survey,most of the contractors don’t follow the safety norms,” he adds.

As per Building and Construction Workers Act,the employers are supposed to ensure checking and testing of equipment and machinery deployed at the sites,occupational health hazards and stress among workers at construction sites.

The activists also wonder whether the kin of deceased labourers have been compensated as per workers act. “Delhi Construction Workers Welfare Board was constituted in 2002,but none of the construction workers,not even a single one,has got any death compensation from the Rs 300 crore plus cess collected by the Board for such emergency relief because none of their workers is registered with the Board,” says Bhatanagar.

Industry insiders say the normal practice in the construction industry is that after an accident all the relatives of the victims are immediately made to disappear from the accident site. Thus making it impossible to ascertain if the compensation has been paid. In these circumstances there is absolutely no question of the compensation being paid in accordance with the construction workers Act,” they say.

The Delhi Human Development Report of 2006 suggested that there were around two to three lakh construction workers in Delhi but CWG-CWC estimates that there are about 8-10 lakh workers presently in the capital,largely migrants brought in from Uttar Pradesh,Bihar,Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand by contractors and sub-contractors.

“There are supposed to be safety committees with worker representation and qualified safety officers for every establishment employing 500 or more workers. But none of the provisions of the Act has ever been followed in any of the construction sites,” says Kanarindhana,Research and Campaign Officer,CWG-CWC.

During 2002 to 2008,290 deaths and 481 injuries were reported from construction sites,reveals NMPS data. According to a report by the People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR),an Indian civil rights group,thousands of workers are not being paid the minimum wages due to them and have been working in extremely unsafe and inhuman conditions,especially at the construction site near Yamuna river bed.

“None of the workers employed by the contractors is paid the legally stipulated minimum wages or overtime. Unskilled workers are paid Rs. 85 to 100 per day as against the stipulated minimum wages of Rs. 142 for eight hours of work. Workers are made to work all seven days a week on normal wages and are not given any leave,” says Moushumi Basu,Secretary,PUDR.

The PUDR report claimed labourers had to share 10ft by10ft brick huts between six to eight people. The rooms,which have tin roofs,have no fans.

There were unreported deaths of more than 100 construction workers at the CWG Village due to outbreak of Meningitis last year due to unhygienic living conditions,says Kanarindhana. “Workers on Commonwealth Games project are being made to work 12 hours at a stretch. This is in complete violation of the Construction Workers Act of 1996 which recommends a 48-hour working cycle per week,” she says.

A study by Building and Woodworkers International (BWI),a global union with members in construction industry,estimated that 300,000 workers will be needed for this level (CWG) of activity,over 3 years. Among them will be 100,000 unskilled construction workers,at least 5,000 of whom will be women,and their 10,000 migrant children.

In all,5 lakh jobs are likely to be created in Games related activities (airlines,airports,tourism,transport,etc).

“Children and families of the migrant construction workers are not at all taken care of at most of the sites. In fact having children or women deprives work availability at few sites. Medical facilities,Schooling,Maternity homes and other basic equipments are not available at most of the sites.

There are one or two ‘show piece sites’ but generally no such facilities are available,” says Bhatanagar.

The high profile Delhi Metro construction sites are also no stranger to accidents. According to Urban Development ministry report,more than 100 people,including 93 labourers,have died in accidents at sites of the Delhi Metro since October 1998 when the construction started.

The report also said that the Delhi Metro has no policy to provide employment to the dependents of the person who die in accidents at the construction sites.

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