On Monday, Hyderabad saw yet another mishap at a construction site, this one resulting in the deaths of two women. A mound of mud caved in, burying the women. This is at least the third such incident at an under-construction site in Hyderabad since last July.
The last, in December, resulted in the death of 11 people. And yet, the script of what happens next has not changed. The construction is found to have been unauthorised or improperly undertaken. As a norm, none of the safety measures mandated by law are in place. The police book the contractor and the building company. Compensation is assured from all sides. Life goes on, for all except the grieving families, and the issue is forgotten till the next such incident occurs. However, two things require attention. First, the systemic neglect of the safety of workers by contractors, and therefore flouting of the law. Second, the culpability of government agencies in such incidents.
The two are related. The Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Central Rules, 1998, lays out extensive guidelines for the responsibilities of the employer. However, workers in the unorganised sector, often migrants pushed to cities by distress in their villages, are among the most vulnerable of workers in India. Their lives and bodies are considered mere implements. Instead of employers meeting the requirements outlined and officials monitoring and evaluating the existence and implementation of rules, too often a blind eye is turned until a disaster occurs.
While the builder and contractor usually face the music after a mishap, the government agencies simply grandstand and hide behind compensation rather than examine their own role in the frequent and too often preventable mishaps. This apathy is hardly unique to officials in Hyderabad but does seem to be unique to the lives and deaths of workers in the unorganised sector. It’s time for that to change.