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Death rate at Gujarat construction sites 74% of accidents; builders assert: 'can't avoid'

By Our Representative
  
In a surprise revelation, Right to Information (RTI) replies based on Badhkam Majur Sangathan (BMS) director Vipul Pandya’s plea show that a whopping 74 percent of those who have been victims of accidents at workplace in the construction sector died between 2008 and 2021 in Gujarat. Just about 26 percent of the victims survived, revealed the details presented by Pandya at a well-attended meeting organised by BMS on the occasion of the International Workers’ Memorial Day, April 28.
Obtained from his RTI pleas to various police stations, Pandya told the meet, which took place at the Mahatma Gandhi Labour Institute (MGLI), Ahmedabad, in all 1,685 accidents were reported to different police stations of Gujarat. Of these, while 1,238 died, and just about 433 could survive.
“Most of the accidents took place in Gujarat’s major four cities – Ahmedabad, Surat, Vadodara and Rajkot. Those who died were mainly Adivasi migrant workers, who come for work in cities in the construction sector. They are mainly either from the eastern tribal belt of Gujarat or from the bordering areas of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra”, Pandya said, adding, “Some of those who die are migrants from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh.”
Among those who attended the meeting included prominent Gujarat builders’ association office bearers, labour and health rights activists, experts who have long been working on occupational health hazards, and a large number of migrant workers. Regretted Pandya, even though Rs 3,850 crore collected as labour welfare cess from the builders was lying idle with the Gujarat government, just about 214 compensations for deaths in accidents – Rs 3 lakh each – have been paid since 2008.

“A survey of 35 sites where construction activity has been going on across Gujarat took place with our help. What surprised the team of scholars who surveyed the sites was, while most workers did wear helmets and safety belts, they were neither trained nor made aware of how to avoid accidents”, said Pandya.
Added health rights activist Jagdish Patel, who has been working with silicosis victims in the Khambhat region of Gujarat for the last several decades, “There is a need to understand the mindset of the builders – they think accidents will happen, one cannot avoid them.” He added, “A perusal of the laws and rules and regulations, existing for the 24 years, suggests that only the builders have the right to declare and identify accidents. Workers have no right to refuse to work if they feel that they may become victims of accidents.”
Ironically, the builders’ representatives who spoke at the meet – Navneet Thakarshee, Tejas Joshi and Girish Singhai – claimed that one could not avoid accidents, that they would happen, that the only thing one should do is to take preventive measures so that these are fewer in numbers. They also contended that they took care of the construction workers to the fullest extent, including by providing health facilities and providing food when workers are in distress.
Prof Dileep Mavlankar, director, Indian Institute of Public Health, Gandhinagar, advised construction workers to take multi-vitamin tablets to increase their immunity. He asked builders to contribute in this, pointing out, “The engineers at the construction sites should ensure such water storage facilities do not lead to the breeding of mosquitoes, as malaria is a common disease among those who work in the open. This would improve productivity.”
Prof Dilip Patel of the Sardar Vallabhbhai National Institute of Technology, Surat, regretted that the builders, who control the construction sector, consider investment in workers’ safety a financial burden. “As many as 38 accidents at construction sites take place in India daily. Contributing 9 percent to India’s GDP, according to our calculation the cost of accidents at the construction sites is a whopping Rs 1.46 lakh crore per annum. What is most worrisome is, none is made accountable for the accidents, even as builders blame the workers for all the mishaps”, he said, adding, “Big builder are known to switch off their phones when any accident occurs.”

Comments

Jagdish Patel said…
Very good report, Rajeev. Vipul Pandya came up with the idea to set up a Tripartite Safety Council of Construction Workers. Since the theme declared by ILO for World Day for Safety & health was enhancing social dialogue towards a culture of safety & health, this proposal is most appropriate and needs to be taken further. Construction companies need to learn how to investigate accidents and learn from the lessons. This would certainly reduce the mishaps. They can carry out safety audits and maybe Bandhkam Mazdur Sangh can help them along with some professionals. What was missing was, that the budget for safety and health of workers kept aside by the construction companies was not discussed at all. Unless there is an adequate budget they can not achieve any goals. But they have ot set any goals for themselves for the reduction of accidents which exhibits their lack of interest in the subject. Vipul has several other good suggestions like some common facilities for training the workers for small contractors. What was again missed was, the training of the employers- builders, contractors, supervisors, and so on. The responsibility of enforcing legal provisions rests with the employers. if they do not know what are the provisions how are they going to enforce them? So we need training for employers in a big way and State should invest in it.

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