HYDERABAD: Maripeddi Lingaiah migrated to the city from Nalgonda two years ago after he incurred a loan on a bore-well that did not yield water. He now works as a daily wage labourer in demolition contracts because they are more fetching than the construction works. What he ignored were the associated hazards.
Lingaiah recently got injured when dismantled iron rods fell on his head and his wife Padma is now worried for his life.
“Very recently another man in the group was badly injured. Fatalities are not rare in this profession,” she says.
D.Malsoori, the labourer she was referring to, suffered a broken leg apart from injuries in his hips and thighs.
“I was pounding the structure with a sledgehammer when it suddenly came crumbling down. Before I could steer clear, iron rods pierced through my thighs and a beam fell on my leg,” he says recalling the nightmare.
Initially, the contractor wavered about the payment for hospitalisation. However, when the group declared that it would not work till Malsoori is paid, and adhered to the decision for two days, he had to yield. “He agreed to bear the hospital expenses and has been kind enough to supply rice and other provisions for the household. But he flatly refused to give any monetary compensation,” said Malsoori.
The cases of both Lingaiah and Malsoori indicate the precarious edge from where about a lakh demolition workers in the state eke out a living. Farmers of small land holdings in most cases, they arrive in the city to repay loans, some times with their lives.
“Due to changing construction trends, demolition works are growing in number. Most often they are given out on contract, and then sub-contracted. Due to the non-time-bound nature of the works, contractors are often in a hurry to finish the work and don’t pay attention to the associated risk. Workers too are mostly young, unskilled, uneducated and inexperienced,” says R.Kotamraju, the president of Building and other Construction Workers Union (BCWU).
While a structure needs to be demolished foot by foot from above, the workers hit it from below so that it collapses all at once, saving time. The direction of collapse determines the worker’s safety.
Lack of safety gear such as helmets, belts, shoes and gloves ensures utmost risk. Compensation in case of injuries or fatality most often depends on how vocal the group is. However, it never exceeds Rs. One lakh.
“At Pondicherry, where the Building & Other Construction Workers Act is in force, the government provides safety gear to each labourer soon after registration,” says Mr.Kotamraju.