Minors from other States forced to leave work with crippling arm injuries
Perumbavoor, known for its plywood industry, is also where a large number of migrant workers eke out a living. Among them are many minor boys who work for extended hours under despicable conditions, earning meagre wages.
A number of them are forced to leave the units with crippling arm injuries that render them handicapped for the rest of their lives.
Doctor D.V. Pradip, who worked in a private hospital in Perumbavoor till December last, told The Hindu that boys aged below 16 were brought from the plywood units for treatment, with serious injuries of the hand.
He recounted that about 15 boys were brought to the hospital during December. “There are about five to eight hospitals in the plywood belt and all of them have scores of such patients,” he said.
Kapil, aged 15, but recorded as 18 years in hospital records, was brought to the hospital with his middle and index fingers crushed during work in a plywood unit.
Another boy, 14-year-old Jamal, was treated under a fake record which mentioned him as 22-year-old.
Sajan, Ali, and Naseeruddin, all hailing from Assam, were among the minors treated by the doctor.
“In many cases, the fingers were crushed beyond saving and had to be amputated,” he said.
The hapless workers are sent home with physical disabilities acquired during the brief working period, with none to take care of them.
“The migrant workers, being illiterate and unable able to speak the local language, are in no position to demand compensation.
Their co-workers cannot support their cause for fear of losing their own job.”
The job in the plywood factory involves pressing and cutting wooden pieces in machines and any kind of negligence results in injuries. The boys are being forced to work for extended hours, rendering them physically and mentally weak. “These boys are not in touch with the outside world as they are accommodated within the factory or nearby camps. Language is another serious barrier for them. The labourers are often supplied by north Indian contractors. None other than the proprietor and close associates are really aware of the happenings within the factory as huge walls are erected around most of them”, says C.K. Prasannan, general convenor of Paristhithi Samrakshana Samithy, an organisation spearheading an agitation against functioning of the plywood units in violation of environmental norms.
Inspections carried out by Muvattupuzha RDO a few months ago had revealed the presence of minors in plywood factories. “Three boys were rescued during an operation and their ages were medically confirmed as below 18,” the official who was part of raid told The Hindu .
In fact, there were more boys in the unit, but they managed to escape. The ones rescued were sent to school, but they later absconded.
The raid was conducted in the presence of officials of the District Labour Office and action was initiated against erring units.
However, such raids are few and far between.
800 plywood units
About 800 plywood units are spread over municipal areas such as Perumbavoor, Angamaly, Muvattupuzha, Kothamangalam, Kalamasserry and panchayat areas such as Vengola, Vazhakkulam, Kunnathunadu, Asamannoor, Mulanthuruthy and Kalady in Ernakulam district. Most of them operate without the required licences, said S. Seetharaman, a professor and environmental activist.
Boys work for extended hours under despicable conditions, earning meagre wages.