Ad hoc payments in case of injuries and deaths, dangerous working conditions and difficulties in getting registered are just some of the problems plaguing Delhi’s labour force
In June, 2021 three construction workers Basant, Mangal Prasad Singh and Panna Lal Yadav were killed in Delhi Development Authority (DDA)’s under-construction housing society situated in Dwarka’s Sector 14, in south-west Delhi. A malfunctioning lift is being blamed for the incident, which came crashing down on them from the seventh floor.
The Patriot tried contacting BG Shirke Construction Technology Pvt Ltd, which was undertaking the construction work on the site but they did not respond while the Police say that the investigation is ongoing.
“Even when a case is filed, who will follow up their case?” asks Nirmal Gorana of Bandhua Mukti Morcha. “Family members of labourers go back home when any such incident happens because they don’t have money to fight the case and their death is forgotten as an unfortunate accident.”
The deaths of Basant, Mangal, and Panna at least found space in newspaper articles, something that is not often seen as not all deaths of construction workers are reported by newspaper articles, a 2016 study by IIT Delhi reveals. Researchers of this study checked the reports of deaths on projects related to DMRC (Delhi Metro Rail Corporation) and found only 17.85% deaths were reported by a reputed National Daily, between 2008-12.
“This is from Delhi, where all media outlets are here,” said Gorana. Which suggests that unreported deaths of construction workers is very high.
Deaths of construction workers at the site is a frequent event. A research on construction sites in Delhi by three researchers Sajjan S. Yadav, Phil Edwards & John Porter, reveals that in 2017 alone 1080 construction workers were injured with 243 of them being fatal injuries in Delhi, out of this 37 were female construction workers. They estimate that construction sites injuries per 100,000 workers of females was 82.26 and among male of per 100,000 workers was 146.5.
These findings are eye opening as so far there has been no attempt to document these deaths and no data is available. The only official data comes from a Lok Sabha reply on 16 March, 2015, which shows that between 2012 to 2015, 77 construction workers lost their lives. While an IIT study published in 2016 estimates that in Delhi alone around 256 people died every year between 2008 – 2012. It also estimated a minimum 11,614 deaths annually in India on construction sites.
Delhi is one of the most attractive destinations for construction workers due to the promise of higher wages. There are 5,52,843 registered workers with the Building and other Construction Workers Welfare Board of Delhi. But experts believe that this number could be much higher, as previous studies reveal that 619,767 workers were employed in the construction sector in 2012 alone and their number has increased.
Registration in itself is a tough task and not all workers are registered. A 32-year-old, Pankaj Pal from Madhya Pradesh working on a construction site in South Delhi says, “I don’t know how to register”. Pal has been working in Delhi for the last two years, “I went home during lockdown, I didn’t receive any benefit from the government so I went back home, now I have returned.”
Giving a reason for his inability to get registered, Pal said, “I worked for six months in Noida, then worked in Ghaziabad, near Hindon River. Now I am working in Delhi for the last one year. People like me, don’t know how to get registered and where to get registered, as Delhi and Noida are two different cities.”
Indian Exclusion Report 2019-20 clearly documents how tough it is for labourers to get registered, and reasons range from lack of knowledge, bureaucracy, logistics among others.
To explain how low the registration of workers is, Professor Ravi Srivastava, Director, Centre of Employment Studies, Institute for Human Development said that, “95% of workers are non- registered, these are those hired by first tier contractors.” Srivastava gave an example of DMRC, he said, “DMRC is not different, majority of their workers are not registered and they are very secretive about it.”
“This is the condition in Delhi, if you look in other cities where second tier, third tier contractors hire construction workers, the conditions are even worse.” Technically, workers should get benefits under the Employee Compensation Act whenever anything happens, But they don’t get it.
However, DMRC denies the allegation, their spokesperson said, “We are the principal employer, and contractors hire workers, they give all benefits.”
“Around 5000 workers work for DMRC currently.” Still we couldn’t get how many unregistered workers work for DMRC. So we can’t verify the number of unregistered workers working for DMRC.
Adding to what he was saying, Srivatava says, “in case of casualties, employers don’t report the incidents, they pay an ad hoc amount to the family of the deceased and hand over the body.” he adds. “For family members seeing the body is enough because most of them come from a distant state,” says Srivastava.
“When activists and NGOs follow up a case on workers’ death, it becomes very difficult to follow up because workers can’t come to hearings,” adds Nirmal Gorana of Bandhua Mukti Morcha. The best option for them is to take ad hoc payments and keep their mouth shut.