Monday Musings: Why is safety at project sites not an issue for builders?
Will the recent deaths of 11 construction labourers and four of their children in Kondhwa, Pune, make any difference to the builders lobby in the city, state or the country?
Will the construction industry genuinely draw fresh lessons from this tragedy and ensure greater safety at their project sites?
Will the state labour department draw clear-cut norms for safety at construction sites and penalise those who don’t follow these safety norms?
Given India’s shameful record and litany of deaths of construction workers at project sites, there is no reason for any optimism on this score. Just as the builders’ community belongs to one of the wealthiest sections of Indian society, in sharp contrast are the construction workers from one of the poorest sections of Indian society. They are not only illiterate, but also unorganised and over-exploited and do not have the representation they deserve. When a worker falls off a building at a construction site, more often than not, the gross absence of safety norms at the work site are overlooked. The case is often watered down as “- accidental death”- meaning that no one is responsible for the death, and thus, things continue as before.
The Kondhwa case is different because of the large number of construction workers killed at the camp. The deaths happened because of a wall falling on the temporary tin shed homes of the labourers on Saturday. These sheds had been put up alongside the boundary wall of the Alcon Stylus housing society in Kondhwa and Pune district collector Naval Kishore Ram was straightforward in observing that “prima facie, the builder seems to be at fault as he set the labour camp right adjacent to the wall.”
Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis ordered a probe and an FIR was filed against 15 persons including the developers, contractor and site engineer of the underconstruction site.
While the Kondhwa police station said builders Vipul Agarwal and Vivek Agarwal were arrested in connection with this case, what has implicated the Alcon Stylus builders further is the claim by the residents that they had warned the developer about the dangerous condition of the retaining wall five months ago.
In July 2018, chief minister Devendra Fadnavis had assured city builders that they would not be booked for negligence or culpable homicide in case of deaths of labourers at construction sites.
Fadnavis had given that assurance during a meeting with representatives of the Marathi Bandhkam Vyavasayik, a body of Maharashtrian builders in the presence of the then BJP chief Amit Shah in Pune. The builders had demanded that the registering of first information reports (FIR) against them following accidents at construction sites should be stopped.
Rather than shrug off their responsibility for deaths at construction sites, the builders lobby and their associations need to take concrete steps to improve safety standards and ensure that the lives and limbs of construction workers are not endangered due to negligence.