Rows of dusty shelters cobbled together with corrugated metal sheets house hundreds of labourers working on the Namma Metro project. Some shacks, which turn to ovens by mid-morning, have as many as 20 men sleeping within them.
Fenced in by more corrugated metal sheets, large areas of the settlements, off Old Madras Road, are hidden from public view even as security guards and boards saying ‘BMRCL. Trespassers will be prosecuted' keep out the people like us.
Wasteland of litter
The living quarters bring to mind a Steinbeck novel, positioned amid large clouds of dust. Behind one of these settlements slopes a wasteland, littered with plastic, various bits of refuse, scraps of food, and human excrement.
Bangaloreans can't wait for the metro to get going, fed up as they are with traffic jams. But as reams are written about the gigantic project's glacial progress, the wretched living conditions of the workers receive little attention.
“About 300 people live here,” says a young worker at a small settlement near the Byappanahalli metro station which is currently under construction, “but there are no toilets.” A young Bengali woman gestures in embarrassment at the wasteland behind the settlement when asked how she manages without a toilet.
Twenty-five-year-old Dhan Rai (name changed), from Bihar, says he has been living at the site for a month. When he falls ill, like he did a few weeks ago during the cold spell, he has to fork out his own money for doctor's visits.
No toilet facility
Yes, the workers are provided with accommodation, drinking water and electricity, but again, toilets don't feature among the available amenities. Driving this point home, a man squats a few metres away from the main road, answering a call of nature, multitasking as he watches the railway trains go by and cheerily chatting on his cellphone all the while.
Another settlement nearby has only three portable toilets for the hundreds that live there. The stench is unbearable. Not far, a group of men bathe in their underwear, only partially hidden from public view. An open drain brings soapy water from the bath area onto the road that runs between the settlements, creating stagnant pools.
Many of the migrants say that they have left their wives and children behind because they have no choice. “How can we put our children in school when we have to keep shifting? We have to be content with seeing them twice a year when we are able to travel home as we make only about Rs. 120 a day.”
But the employers have been supportive when it comes to emergencies, one man says. “When my mother died, they granted me leave as well as paid for my train ticket back to my village in West Bengal.”
Separation from families weighs them down, but they say there is little that can be done about it. “Of course we miss our families, but we need the money. We don't want our children to live like us.” Some workers, glancing nervously at the guards, refused to speak to this reporter about their living conditions, or even acknowledge that they were employed by Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation Ltd.
BMRCL chief public relations officer Yeshavanth Chavan said that as per law, it was the responsibility of the contractor in-charge of workers to ensure acceptable living conditions for them. The matter would be looked into, he said.