Child labourers: 16-hour shifts at Rs 2,000 per month, then killed by fire
In Sunday’s Anaj Mandi fire tragedy, the police found that nearly 20 minors were inside the building when the fire broke out. Seven of these boys were living in very congested rooms which doubled up as their workplace and residenceUpdated: Dec 13, 2019 05:07 IST
Seven boys, all employed illegally at meagre sustenance pay, were among the 43 people killed and another seven were injured in Sunday’s Anaj Mandi fire tragedy in a five-storey building being used to run illegal factories, Delhi Police crime branch officials probing the case said on Thursday.
The police found that nearly 20 minors were inside the building when the fire broke out. Of the seven injured minors, three were workers employed in two different factories for stitching lunchbox covers and cutting rexine used for making bags and jackets. One of the three injured workers is a 15-year-old speech-impaired boy, police said.
“The juvenile workers worked in two separate factories on the third floor. They were paid between ₹2,000 and ₹5,000 per month and lived in the same place,” an investigator said on condition of anonymity. All the seven injured minors belong to Bihar.
The police found that these boys were living in very congested rooms which doubled up as their workplace and residence, and worked shifts that ranged between 12 and 16 hours. “They worked and lived in the same conditions as their adult colleagues, but in comparison got paid less than half,” said one of the police officers cited above.
Three other teenagers, who survived the fire incident, were staying in the building as guests of a worker and two factory owners – Jubair, who is missing, and Imran who was killed in the blaze – investigators said after recording the statements of the surviving juveniles.
“The teenagers who survived are in the age group of 10 to 17 years. The 10-year-old boy in his statement has told us that he was not a worker but a relative of Ikram (who died in the fire) and had come to meet him a few days ago. An injured 17-year-old boy left the hospital where he was admitted in unconscious state. Police are trying to trace him to record his statement,” the officer cited above said.
On Thursday, the investigating team added Section 79 of the Juvenile Justice Act, which deals with exploitation of child employees, in the existing first information report (FIR). The addition was made on the statements of the surviving juveniles who revealed that they were employed for doing menial tasks and kept in “inhumane conditions”, the police said. “We have added Section 79 of the JJ Act in the case. The building’s two owners – Mohammad Rehan and his brother-in-law Suhail – and Rehan’s manager, Furkan, have been arrested so far in the case. The third owner, Imran (same name as another deceased factory owner), is absconding,” said deputy commissioner of police (crime) Rajesh Deo.
Investigators said that two children younger than 10 years of age were living on the first floor with their mother. All three escaped unhurt as the mother woke up soon after the fire broke out on the second floor and managed to escape with her children.
“We have learnt that at least four more minors were inside the building when the fire broke out. They must have escaped unhurt. We are trying to identify and locate them. Their statements will also be recorded to know if they knew how the fire started,” the investigator said.
A 15-year-old injured juvenile worker told the police that he came to Delhi from his home town in Bihar for work and was employed for stitching lunchbox covers in Imran’s factory on the third floor. Another 14-year-old worker said in his statement that he was brought to the factory a month ago by his minor friend who is speech-impaired. The two worked in Jubair’s factory and their job was to cut rexine for making jackets and bags. They used to sleep in Jubair’s factory on the third floor after work. The duo sometimes cooked on a gas stove in the room, the police said.
“The two minors were sleeping in the room when the fire broke out. They ran into another room in the backside of the building to save their lives. They stood facing the open window grille to get air from outside to breathe. Both fell unconscious in a few minutes as the smoke engulfed that room as well. The firefighters rescued them and admitted to a hospital where they survived,” the investigator said, quoting the statement of one of the two.