For Metro construction workers like Sunil Kumar, the safety slogans at the site near Nehru Place T-junction are a constant reminder of the risks associated with their workplace.
Among the safety slogans are “Maa baap mera gaon pukare, ghar lautenge suraksha ke sahare” (Mother, father and my village want me to return home safely) and “Kaam mein rakho suraksha ka pehra, ghar le jao khilta chehra” (Ensure safety at work and go home with a smile).
It’s usual to see such safety slogans across the city but what is unique about the ones at the Metro construction sites is that most of them were coined by workers of the Delhi Metro.
Whenever Kumar visits home, a village in Uttar Pradesh, the only thing his wife tells him at the time of his return is to stay safe. “I am the only breadwinner in the family, my wife is always tense and worries about my safety,” he said.
The construction contractor has equipped Kumar with safety gear like a special helmet and shoes. However, before he begins the day’s work, it is a ritual of sorts for him to gaze at the safety slogans on the wall just outside the site. He sees the writings on the wall, smiles and moves inside to start work.
Travel 29 metres below the ground and the Metro construction site at Hauz Khas will look like a war site. A huge crane is moving, large iron rods lie on the ground and workers are operating heavy drilling machines.
One mistake and a person might have to be rushed to the nearby All India Institute of Medical Sciences.
Amid the heavy machinery and the din, a man sits in one corner with paint and a brush and is busy working on a safety slogan. Rajeev Kumar is not just a painter who writes safety-related messages at Metro construction sites – he also gives shape to the ideas of the workers.
From time to time, the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) and a private construction company organise competitions in which the workers are asked to come up with safety slogans.
During a recent competition organised on the World Safety Day (April 28), Class 10 dropout Sunil Kumar was awarded for his beautiful couplet: “Maa janam deti hai ek baar, suraksha jivan deti hai bar bar” (Mother gives birth to you once but safety keeps you alive).
His co-worker Sanjay wrote: “Ek bhool kare nuksaan, cheene roji roti aur muskaan (One mistake can cause damage and take away your happiness and livelihood).
Thousands of workers have found employment at Metro construction sites across Delhi and the National Capital Region. Most of them are from the villages of Uttar Pradesh, Odisha, West Bengal, Bihar and Jharkhand and cannot afford to bring along their families.
They live in cheap, rented accommodation in villages or slums. One often finds words like ‘maa’ (mother) and ‘ghar’ (home) in the safety slogans so that the message hits home with them.
Ram Chandra Dayal, from a village in Odisha, said: “People tend to ignore safety measures. They will not wear a helmet if there is no fear of getting challaned (fined). Similarly, the workers also tend to ignore safety measures.
“But if they see slogans like this, they remember their responsibility. It is like when we were in school, our headmaster used to ask us to write the multiplication tables on our huts’ wall so that we would remember them. So, if we keep seeing these slogans, it will definitely stay in our mind for a longer period.”
Anuj Dayal, a spokesperson for DMRC, said, “DMRC was clear in its approach that it won’t undertake construction like other agencies. The concept of writing slogans on the wall was a part of this approach.”
“These slogans have not been outsourced but have been scripted by the people who are part of the Metro family. We keep organising in-house competitions to encourage more such slogans and paintings.”
‘Deadly’ metro tracks
Hundreds of workers have died during the construction of the metro railway according to a report. During 2008-09 alone, 48 construction workers died in Delhi, and 98 suffered serious injuries. In October 2008, two people were crushed to death and 12 injured when another bridge under construction collapsed on to a bus and cars below.
At least six people died when a pillar supporting a partly built bridge collapsed in July 2009 in south Delhi. In the same year, a labourer was killed when a girder fell on him at a rail construction site.
One worker was killed while another suffered critical injuries after a heavy slab at an underground Delhi Metro construction site after a concrete slab fell on them on Palam-Dabri road in 2015.