Nearly a week after the Karnataka High Court warned Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation Ltd. (BMRCL) that it will put a stop to construction work if labour and human right violations by its contractors continue, little appears to have changed on the ground.
A quick recce of a few Namma Metro construction sites reveals that there has been no talk on extending any service to workers. When Ganesh, a construction worker from Odisha who works near the Swastik Station stretch, said he knows neither of a High Court intervention nor about any attempts to improve the living conditions. For the two years that he has worked for this contractor, he did not get clean drinking water even for a single day. “We depended on shopkeepers near CMH Road to give us water. In another place, we had them provide us water in large tanks, but that could only be used for washing up at the end of the day,” he said.
On another worksite on the Yeshwantpur stretch, workers said they were constantly working well beyond their shifts, but they weren’t being paid overtime. A woman, part of a six-member family from Tamil Nadu working there, said when she asked the contractor if he could ask one of the commercial establishments if she could use their toilet, she was turned down. “We fend for ourselves. In the bigger apartment building sites, we are told more facilities are provided. Here nobody listens to us.”
She said in Yeshwantpur and Nayandanahalli, where there are labour camps, people are better off. However, in these camps too, as The Hindu had reported earlier, basic amenities are not provided.
In a State government notification, dated April 2013, the Labour Department mandates that all government authorities commissioning construction projects must ensure that contractors and sub-contractors comply with existing labour laws. This puts the onus, which the court has reiterated, on BMRCL to ensure its contractors comply. Yet, contractors appear to be flouting every labour law there is with complicity.
The same circular makes it clear that every worker must be registered with the Karnataka Building and Construction Workers’ Welfare Board. However, sources confirm that no exhaustive list of workers exists.
A study on BMRCL worksites in the city by the Karnataka State Construction Workers’ Central Union, conducted in March, revealed that contractors have been flouting every labour law there is. R. Madhu Sudhan of the union said the study, which documents the lives of these workers, showed they were exploited because they were poor and had no formal education. Most of them are paid between Rs. 3,500 and Rs. 14,000, and at the lower level the wages are below the stipulated minimum wages. The average work shift, the survey found, was 12 hours.
Mr. Madhu Sudhan noted that even those contractors who had collected identity cards for member workers from the board had not handed them over. “This means that they have no access to any of the welfare measures they are entitled to.”