Despite high court's intervention, working and living conditions of construction workers at Commonwealth Games sites remain shockingly poor
Danish Raza | May 20, 2010
Over six months ago, a contractor for construction labour in Bihar’s Bhagalpur district asked Aalam if he was interested in working in Delhi. He was told that the work would go on for around 8 months and he would get his wages on time.
Aalam, who was out of work, boarded the train to Delhi. Next morning he was taken to the ridge area around Delhi University, one of the many places where construction for Commonwealth Games 2010, is on.
Thus, 20-year-old Aalam got immersed into the sea of workers, of all age groups, mainly from Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, West Bengal and Bihar, who are readily sweating their guts out to cast the city into a new mould.
On February 3 this year, Delhi high court appointed a monitoring committee to redress the grievances of construction workers like Aalam. Arundhati Ghose, former Indian ambassador to the United Nations, and R.D. Srivastava, labour secretary, were among the members of the committee.
The court was considering a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR), a Delhi based civil rights group and two others, relating to the working conditions of labourers engaged in building and construction of commonwealth games sites.
“We asked for court’s intervention as anything else could not have worked in this case. It is about getting the labourers their rights,” said Inderjeet Jha, member, PUDR.
A month and a half later, the committee submitted 102-page report to the court. The committee members found it difficult to confirm if minimum wages were paid to all workers and muster rolls were examined.
The report said that the system was open to abuse as majority of the employers were not aware of various rules and regulations meant for construction workers.
“Lack of overall hygiene, environmental sanitation and cleanliness was deplorable,” noted the report about the living condition of construction workers.
The four-member committee recommended that the court should direct all the employers to ensure that minimum wages were paid to the workers and hygienic working and living conditions were provided.
“Direct the welfare board to start a time-bound programme for registration of all construction workers, preceded, if necessary, by a wide ranging and easily understandable campaign among the workers and process the request for assistance on an urgent basis,” it said.
Among the 10 recommendations were the disbursement of unpaid wages to workers and considering punishing those (employers) who violated the laws.
Two months after the committee’s findings were brought to the notice of the court, Aalam’s lifestyle has not changed.
He still gets Rs 150 a day, for doing a 12-hour shift with no extra payment for overtime. “About a week ago, I heard that our wages would be increased. But my contractor said he got no such orders,” said Aalam, who is a mistri (skilled labourer) and should be getting Rs 228 per day, as per the law.
Wage slip is unheard of. He continues to live in a 4-by-6 feet tent on the roadside, with the road serving as a playground for his three kids. (He is father of three children at a young age of 20.)
There is no one to look after the children, one of them aged six months, when Aalam is out for work with wife, Afsana and brother in law, Salim.
Unlike us, he does not cough because of the smoke emanating from the earthen stove at his tent.
Electricity is taken from the wires above the tent. When we tell him that it is theft of electricity, he directs us to his jamadaar (contractor).
Aalam has no idea that he is working on a project that is part of a Rs 10,000 crore sports jamboree to be held in October. “No,” says he upon being asked if he has ever heard of ‘Commonwealth Games’.
The only change is that now when he is at work he does not leave any cash in his squatter. “Last week, there was a theft here. About Rs 2500 and a mobile phone were stolen,” he says, pointing to the tent next to his.
From his fellow workers, Aalam heard that they would soon get identity cards. When he enquired from his contractor, he grinned and asked Aalam to get back to work.
“Are you talking about this?” asks 56 year old Punuva, who goes by single name, while handing us his voter identity card. Punuva is a beldaar (semi- skilled labourer) from Tigamgarh district in Madhya Pradesh. He gets Rs 120 a day for his work.
The landscape is no different at Indira Gandhi stadium, next to the office of Delhi’s chief minister. On one side of the road, construction at the stadium is on in full swing. The other side is dotted with makeshift tents that are home to the labourers.
The construction work for the Commonwealth Games 2010 falls under the jurisdiction of nine agencies, including the New Delhi Municipal Corporation, Municipal Corporation of Delhi, Delhi International Airport Ltd, and Delhi Metro Rail Corporation. There are 48 private establishments involved in hiring workers.
The Delhi government, in its response in high court, had asked all agencies involved in hiring for the Commonwealth Games to submit detailed lists of workers at various construction sites, along with their contractors.
On April 28, Najmi Waziri, the government’s standing counsel, told the court that more than 26,000 workers were registered and around 2,000 passbooks were issued. Registration of rest of the workers, Najmi said, was under way.
Acting on court’s orders, the labour department issued notices to the authorities involved in the construction work. Only Central Public Works Department (CPWD) and Delhi government gave ‘partial reply’ to the notice.
The government also said that it would conduct awareness camps for the workers where they would be informed about their rights.
No worker at the two sites visited by Governance Now – ridge area around Delhi University and Indira Gandhi stadium -- could confirm to having attended any such camp.
“Even if they conduct such camps, what purpose will it serve?” said Indrajeet, “They should have done it long ago.”
Arundhati Gose, member of the monitoring committee, told Governance Now that she was yet to witness any change on the ground. “I do not see anything happening. We continue to build Delhi on the back of these migrants who are deprived of their constitutional rights,” said Ghose, who believes that part of the problem lies in multiplicity of laws for construction workers.
“While preparing our report, we found out that there are 251 laws and regulations for the benefit of these workers. It is difficult for the regulators to regulate them,” said she.
Back in his jhuggi, Aalam is satisfied as he gets his wages on time.
“What more can I ask for?”
Chronology of PUDR’s intervention in the matter of working and living conditions of construction workers at CWG sites
*January 21, 2010: PUDR and two others submit a petition in Delhi HC listing out the conditions under which labourers are working at various Commonwealth Games construction sites
*Feb 3, 2010: Delhi high court appoints a monitoring committee
*March 17, 2010: the committee submits its report to the high court
(Since then, the court has issued orders to various authorities to take action)
*April 28, 2010: Last hearing at Delhi high court
*May 26, 2010: Next hearing at Delhi high court.
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