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Labourer hurt in kitchen mishap found underage

PRELIMINARY INVESTIGATIONS have revealed Amar Rathore, the labourer injured in an accident at the kitchen for the State sponsored mid-day meal scheme, to be 16 years old, well below the legally sanctioned age for employment.
By HT Correspondent | None, Indore
PUBLISHED ON JAN 29, 2006 12:36 AM IST

PRELIMINARY INVESTIGATIONS have revealed Amar Rathore, the labourer injured in an accident at the kitchen for the State sponsored mid-day meal scheme, to be 16 years old, well below the legally sanctioned age for employment.

The findings surfaced during a post-mishap inquiry launched by the Labour and Industrial Health and Safety department to probe work and safety conditions at the kitchen, run by Nandi Foundation, a Hyderabad-based NGO for the IMC.

Although Labour officials were unwilling to go on record, the discovery lays bare both IMC and Nandi Foundation for punitive action for violating employment age rules.

Rathore’s fingers were crushed when his hand got stuck in a chapatti-making machine on January 16. At the time the NGO declared the labourer to be 20 years old, apparently to escape censure for flouting governmental rules which forbid employing persons below 18.

According to sources Rathore’s actual age surfaced during scrutiny of school certificates by the inquiry team. The revelation has left Nandi Foundation, which also operates mid-day meal schemes in Jabalpur, Vishakhapatnam and Hyderabad, scurrying for cover.

NGO office-bearers duck responsibility by shifting the blame on the labour provider who was sacked a week ago. “All those employed at the kitchen were provided by the labour contractor and it was his job to verify their age”, declares Nandi Foundation Manager S Rao.

“He was sacked after the inquiry revealed that he failed to do this”, he says. Rao says the agreement signed with the new labour contractor has a specific clause forbidding the employment of anyone less than 20 years of age.

Something, he says, the Foundation could not do earlier, as it was pressed for time. “The earlier labour arrangement was on an ad hoc basis. As we wanted to start meal preparation as soon as possible we did not wait for a formal agreement to be drafted with the contractor”, said Rao.

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