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Fix official responsibility in death of 10 NREGA women workers: NAPM demands

Counterview Desk
Expressing shock at the death of 10 NREGA women workers in Telangana, India's top civil society network National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM) has demanded judicial probe and official accountability for avoidable loss of lives, saying, the incident is a cruel and unforgivable consequence of the neglect by the authorities.
In a statement signed, among others, by Medha Patkar of the Narmada Bachao Andolan; Aruna Roy, Nikhil Dey, Shankar Singh of the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan and the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information; Dr Binayak Sen of the Peoples’ Union for Civil Liberties; and Prafulla Samantara of the Lok Shakti Abhiyan, NAPM has demanded RS 50 lakh compensation to each family and audit of the status of implementation of labour laws.

Text of the statement:

The National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM) is deeply shocked and pained to know of the tragic, on-site death of 10 NREGA women workers two days back in Teeleru, Telangana, primarily due to official apathy. This is in addition to another woman worker Ch Lakshmi battling for life and 5 other women injured, even as officials estimate an increase in casualties.
We express our most sincere condolences to the families of all the deceased women; Anuradha (30), Bheemamma (34), G. Buddhamma (36), B. Lakshmi (32), K. Lalamma (36), M. Lingamma (34), Ch. Ananthamma (42), P. Shekharamma (50), B. Ananthamma (54) and Ch. Lakshmi (42) in this moment of untold misery.
As per survivor accounts and field reports, the incident occurred at about 10:30 am on the morning of April 10, at the Y Tippagutta NREGA worksite, Teeleru panchayat, Marikal Mandal, Narayanpet district, when after completion of trench digging work in the scorching heat, 30 workers were taking rest at the foot of a small hillock.
It was at this moment that about 30 tractor-load mounds of mud and clay pellets came cascading on them, leading to the immediate death of the 10 women workers. While lack of safe shades for rest seems to be the primary reason for this tragedy, it also appears that irresponsible excavation work by the contractor has triggered the deaths.
Organizations associated with NAPM in Telangana including Dalit Bahujan Front, Samalochana, Upadhi Hami Phone Radio, Telangana Vyavasaya Vruttdarula Union as well as national platforms like the NREGA Sangharsh Morcha, have, for over a decade now, been raising concerns related to safety and welfare of NREGA workers, which have not been adequately taken on board and addressed by the authorities. This incident is a cruel and unforgivable consequence of the neglect of the same.
Refusal of the government to provide something as basic as heat-resistant cloth tents (instead of plastic) at the work-site, which probably could have saved these 10 valuable lives, speaks volumes about the official insensitivity and priorities of a state, for who the working class and oppressed castes are often a mere vote-bank constituency, a number that is dispensable! That even plastic sheets have not been distributed to workers at many sites exposes further the disregard for workers rights.
Provisioning of safety shades is a mandatory requirement under the NREGA Act and rules, 2005 (Schedule II, Clause 23). The fact that despite multiple reminders and appeals by civil society groups to the Telangana Govt. to provide cloth tents, the same was not provided, leads us to conclude that this was a tragedy waiting to happen. Therefore, the Govt. and the Chief Minister cannot shirk their responsibility and accountability for these deaths, by calling this an 'unfortunate accident'.
We welcome the prompt and suo-moto intervention  of the National Human Rights Commission in this regard, calling for a detailed report within four weeks from the Government of Telangana including “action taken against guilty, relief and rehabilitation to the families of the victims and status of the safety measures at such sites where deep digging is conducted”.
We hope the Commission will pursue this matter in right earnest to ensure action against those responsible and justice to the deceased and their families.
In the light of this tragic incident, NAPM demands:
a) A minimum of Rs 50 lakh as compensation to the families of each of the deceased women, to be disbursed within a week. The government must assume full responsibility for the education of the children of the deceased as well as health care of injured workers.
b) Registration of FIR against officials and contractors legally responsible for provision of employment and safety at the concerned worksite.
c) An independent judicial probe into the circumstances leading to the tragic death and fixing accountability at the highest levels of administrative and political decision-making.
d) Immediate audit / review of status of implementation of labour laws as well as rights and entitlements (including shades / cloth tents) at all the NREGA work-sites and provision of the same in terms of the NREGA Act, rules and notifications of the Union Ministry or Rural Development.

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