With contractor absconding, the PWD should be held responsible: Labour Department

Sivaguru, the contractor who was in charge of the two workers who died of asphyxiation in the septic tank on Saturday, is still absconding.

According to Veera Vallavan, inspector of D. Nagar Police Station, Sivaguru was reportedly visiting some relatives and the police had sent a team to arrest him. So far, however, they had not found him. They were hopeful of nabbing him by Tuesday, he said.

Meanwhile, the Labour Department has been kept in the dark about the death of these workers. When contacted, a senior labour department official said that they had not received any news on the matter and that even the contractors were not registered with the department.

“In most cases with the Public Works Department, contractors employed are not registered with the labour department. Despite repeated notices sent to the various contractors and the PWD officials, the department still continues to employ unregistered contractors,” the official said. Unfortunately, by the time the Labour Department can ensure that these contractors are registered, they would have already completed the work and left the spot.

“In the case of the two workers who died in the septic tank accident, if it was so that, then the contractor has failed to perform his duty, and the blame falls on the principle employer, who, in this case, is the PWD. If the contractor is absconding, then the PWD should be held responsible,” the official said.

If the Labour Department receives a petition from any of the affected parties, then they will be able to take legal action and issue notices against the contractor and the PWD. So far, nobody has approached the Labour Department on this issue, the official said.

The two workers Udhayakumar (51) from Mudaliarpet and Jagadeesan (48) from Karikalampakkam were engaged in desilting of a septic tank in Suthanthira Ponvizha Nagar when the accident took place. When they were switching on the pump after the work was completed, one of them slipped into the well and pulled the other one also in. Both of them died of asphyxiation on Saturday.

Regarding the issue of safety equipment, a senior PWD official said although masks were available for entering into fresh water, there was no proper safety equipment available in India and the only equipment that they were offered was from abroad.

The five workers had been working on the tank for around 10 days. Although the PWD workers themselves generally undertook the draining of wells on a regular basis, it was necessary to employ contractors with technical experience to undertake desilting and other complicated tasks. The contractor, Sivaguru, although he was not registered in the labour department, was enlisted in the PWD roll, which was why he was employed for the task, the official said.