CHENNAI: Loss was writ large on the faces of those gathered outside the air cargo complex at Meenambakkam. Some had lost sons, others their fathers. Most had come to support friends, while some had come to offer legal aid. The families of five men, who had left to work in a sugar factory in Ethiopia in Africa in the hope of improving their lives, went through a gamut of emotions on Monday as the mortal remains of the five welders were brought back to the city.
Sadness soon gave way to hurt-fuelled fury as a representative of the Fincha Sugar Factory Expansion Project, some 300 km from Addis Ababa, arrived to inform them that the coffins had arrived on Etihad cargo flight EY 3718. Paramasivam A, elder brother of V Devendran (34) from Cuddalore, was inconsolable. “We don’t know what we are going to do next. He was the only breadwinner and now we have no way of supporting his wife and two children,” he said. “Our last hope is that the government shows some mercy.”
Six workers, contracted by Mumbai-based Surendra Engineering Corporation, were killed last Friday when a pipe in the sugar factory’s boiler room burst, incinerating them. Five of the victims were from Tamil Nadu — Muthu Krishnan (40), Devendran, R Devadass (45), M Velraj (26) and V Muruganandam (26).
The company’s offer of a Rs 50,000 compensation did little to soothe the families as issues of non-payment of salaries and bad treatment poured forth.
“He left home over a year ago and was promised a salary of Rs 30,000 but was given only Rs 12,000. The working conditions were harsh and pathetic.” alleged Muruganandam’s cousin Baskar T.
This prompted others like Velraj’s friend R Kannan to disclose how he had stepped in to help the family, as “salaries had not been paid in nine months”. The families lashed out at M N Pandit, Executive Director of Surendra Engineering and asked for compensation upto Rs 50 lakh.
With the threat of a road roko imminent, the police had to step in to stop the argument. Concerned over the state of the bodies with no proper refrigeration in the cargo hold since 8 am, the police and Airports Authority of India (AAI) pushed for a quick resolution.
The company doubled the payout and promised to pay all dues, but were still stonewalled by the irate crowd.