Delhi

Contained in containers

The sleepy road behind Andhra Pradesh Bhavan in central Delhi is a picture of two contrasting worlds.

The elegant colonial bungalows and sober government offices in the area are at odds with a makeshift village of shipping containers.

More than 500 migrant workers live in at least 50 of these containers placed along the road, most of them stacked one above the other in three layers, making the top level over 30-ft high.

Each of these containers houses 12 to 14 people, who are engaged in construction work of government offices – being built by the Central Public Works Department (CPWD) through a private company – in the vicinity.

Speaking to The Hindu , the workers living there complained of extreme heat and cold conditions, lack of clean toilets and washing areas, besides water dripping from the roof and cramped spaces inside the containers.

They said they preferred living in traditional lodging, even if it were a little away from their workplace, because the containers were “unliveable”. However, many among them also pointed out that they had lived in worse conditions while working at other construction sites.

Complaints galore

Garmi mein andar aisa lagta hai jaise aag nikal rahi ho (It feels as if it’s burning inside the containers during summer months),” said 20-year-old Shahbaz, a migrant worker from Araria in Bihar.

Inside most containers, there are just two small fans attached to the ceiling. “The fans don’t help much. The workers often sleep late in summer, waiting for the containers to cool down a little,” said Mr. Shahbaz. “What else can daily wagers like us do? We need to get some sleep to be able to do the next day's work.”

Winter months are no better for them. At night, dew drops keep dripping from the roof, dampening their blankets and beds.

The containers have metal bunk beds on both sides, separated by a narrow walkway. Many containers also have a kitchen arrangement on the bunk bed closest to the door. The workers take turns to cook their food. While the doors of the containers can be closed, the windows, which have been cut out of the metal walls, cannot be closed and the inhabitants use a curtain or cardboard to cover the opening. It hardly gives them any protection from the cold wintry nights in the Capital.

“Life inside this box is like living in a train. The only difference is that this bogie is stationary,” laughed Mohammad Shahnavaz, 31, sitting on his bunk bed.

He said he was living and working under such difficult conditions in Delhi only to provide for his four children and wife who are based in Araria, Bihar.

Citing other problems of living in the containers, he said it was difficult to wash and dry clothes. There were 20-odd temporary toilets mounted on trolleys but at any given time, more than half of them were clogged and unusable, he said.

These workers have been provided the accommodation in the shipping containers by a contractor through the private company building the offices. According to the Delhi government rules, any contractor providing accommodation has to arrange for amenities, including clean toilets and washing areas.

The rule book says every latrine or urinal should be maintained in a sanitary condition at all times. In case more than 250 workers live in a place, there should be a provision for a canteen. The rule demands a dining hall with furniture, sufficient to accommodate the workers. Separate places have to be earmarked for canteen, kitchen, storeroom, pantry and washing utensils.

A Central government legislation talks of “separate cooking place, bathing, washing and lavatory facilities”. But many of these rules seem to be lacking in these habitations.

The ladders connecting the ground, first and second levels of the containers are made of irons rods and each rung is made of two parallel rods with a gap between them. This again is in violation of rules that state that ladder rungs have to be made of straight-grained wood free from defects.

Mr. Shahnavaz, who earlier worked in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh, said in his 15 years of experience, Delhi is the only city where he has been provided accommodation in a container.

Two years ago, when he worked at a construction site next to the Delhi High Court, the living conditions were better in regular rooms, he added.

Unliveable, inhuman’

S. Irudaya Rajan, chair of The KNOMAD (The Global Knowledge Partnership on Migration and Development), a World Bank working group on internal migration and urbanisation, said he had seen similar housing arrangements for workers in West Asia and China.

“The condition inside the containers here is not liveable; it is inhuman," he said. “If a private company is doing this, I can understand, but the government (CPWD) cannot do this to its workers,” he said, adding that the living conditions of migrants are usually “pathetic” in many places across the country.

“They can’t complain to anyone. Unless we recognise migrant workers as the backbone of our economic growth and include them as beneficiaries in the plans of State governments and smart cities, they will remain an invisible sector and their problems will remain unsolved,” Mr. Rajan said.When contacted, Devendra Sachan, Director (media), CPWD, did not offer a comment.

A few workers are planning to leave the work and return home due to the poor conditions. “It is too cold at night; the toilets are so dirty that I don't feel like using them. In my eight years of experience, this is the worst place I have stayed in. Had I known about these conditions, I wouldn't have come here. I am going back next month,” said Yunis Alam, 25, from Uttar Pradesh, who started living in the containers a week ago.


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Printable version | Jul 1, 2022 4:23:23 am | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Delhi/contained-in-containers/article38347339.ece