Despite safety measures, massive infrastructure projects involve a fair amount of unavoidable risks. But labourers say they have no written agreement on terms of their employment or compensation

Thousands of workers have been toiling on the Rs. 14,600-crore Metro Rail project over the past several months.

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Two of them are now no longer alive to see the fruit of their labour.

Risks are part of the deal

Despite advanced safety measures, massive infrastructure projects such as Chennai Metro Rail involve a fair amount of risk that is unavoidable, said an official of Chennai Metro Rail Limited (CMRL).

Nothing in black and white

However, labourers at the accident spot on Thursday said they had no written agreement with the terms of their employment. “All we have is an entry pass stating which site we work at,” said a worker.

Asked if they signed any document that spoke of the risk element and details of compensation in the event of an accident, the workers replied in the negative.

V. Somasundaram, chief general manager (constructions), CMRL, said: “We will check into that.”

With a number of contractors and sub-contractors in the picture, how does a contractual agreement with labourers work? Who is accountable in the case of an accident causing death or injury to a worker?

Price of death

A CMRL official said their insurance covered all labourers, irrespective of who engaged them. However, the compensation for an accident victim is the discretion of the labour commissionerate. CMRL, through its main contractor (L&T in this case), will have to arrange for the compensation amount.

It took personnel of Tamil Nadu Fire and Rescue Services over an hour to retrieve the body of 22-year-old Dimple Shah, who died in the accident at the Alandur site.

He is survived by his wife and two children, who live in Patna. The labour commissionerate will soon hand over the compensation sum of Rs. 9 lakh to his family, according to the CMRL official.

Labour standards

Mr. Somasundaram, observing that CMRL followed international standards in labour contracts, said: “We have even asked an NGO working with construction labourers to document details of workers across Metro Rail sites,” he said.

According to a worker at the site, the wages, ranging from Rs. 210 to Rs. 230 at the site, were satisfactory. “But it is important to spell out details of compensation at the time of employment,” he said.

Neighbourhood shattered

Put up in Ambal Nagar, Jafferkhanpet, the site had become a second home to them, another worker said.

A. Shanti, who resides very close to the site, was in a state of shock on Thursday. “The workers often come home saying, ‘Akka…. thanni venum’ (sister, we want some water) in broken Tamil.”

(With inputs from K. Manikandan)

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