Many metro contractors do not have licence to hire labourers from outside
As he watched thousands of excited faces lined up for a Metro ride on the inaugural day at the Byappanahalli Station here, Jeetu Nath said he could not take his mind off the events of March 1, 2011.
Around 2 a.m. that day, Jeetu Nath, a security guard, was carrying on his shoulders the blood-splattered body of a metro construction worker.
The injured man, 19-year-old Bikash Mondal from Bishnupur village of Paschim Mednipur in West Bengal died within the hour. Bikash Mondal had been run over while on duty by a truck carrying cement.
“I kept screaming for help. But that is when I realised that the worksite does not even have an ambulance, emergency medical staff or even somebody from the management carrying cash required for treatment during an emergency,” says Jeetu Nath.
He added that he paid for Bikash Mondal's treatment with his own earnings.
Speaking to The Hindu from Bishnupur, Bikash Mondal's father, Paraschandra Mondal, said that he is still waiting for compensation for his son's death. A senior Metro official, when contacted, said it was up to each individual contractor to take care of labourers hired by him.
While the death of Bikash Mondal and how it was handled might represent the worst side of labour relations in the BMRCL project, the daily grind too is nothing short of grim.
A majority of the workforce is migrant labour.
“Local labourers create too much trouble. Those from far off are cheaper, more obedient, work harder and ask fewer questions,” said Mohammed Kamal Hassan (28), a labour scout and contractor from Kamadipur in the Murshidabad district of West Bengal.
Kamal Hassan appeared to have no clue when asked if he had a licence to hire labourers from outside the State as required under the Interstate Migrant Workmen (regulation of employment and conditions of service) Act, 1979. Eight other contractors, who The Hindu interviewed, did not have these licences either.
“I have not taken a weekly off in three years,” said Arun Singh (33) from Sheikhpura village in Chapra village of Bihar. Arun Singh, who drives a water truck for an average of 12 hours a day, said that he gets no overtime wages.
There is also no medical leave.
“If somebody falls ill or gets injured at work, his pay is cut. How can we pay for no work?” Kamal Hassan sought to know.
Arun Singh's brother recently fell seriously ill forcing him to take long leave. He tried to withdraw his Provident Fund.
That is when he “found out” that the employer had not been contributing its share.
“I don't know what they did with the Rs. 275 they have been deducting from my salary every month in the name of PF,” he said.
Veera Mani, General Secretary of the Karnataka State Building and other Construction Workers Federation, said that his organisation had attempted to set up a workers welfare board for metro workers as envisioned by the Union Government.
“While BMRCL Managing Director N. Sivasailam seemed enthused by the idea and encouraged us to go ahead, his subordinate officers thwarted the move, perhaps, out of fear that they would face a backlash from the contractors,” said Mr. Mani.
Mr. Sivasailam denied that moves to form the board had been stymied.
“They are free to come and start work on it anytime they want,” according to Mr. Sivasailam.