VELLORE: In the aftermath of the Ranipet tragedy that claimed the lives of 10 workers in the premises of the SIDCO Industrial estate factory, nine of whom were from West Bengal, officials have yet to come to grips with implementing measures that are already in place and instituting further measures to ensure that accidents such as this one do not occur in the future.
The problems are pervasive and systemic and include routine exploitation of migrant workers, flouting rules of safety for protecting workers and widespread corruption allowing officials to disregard rules.
According to official figures, there are more than 5,000 migrant workers employed in the leather and tannery factories in the SIDCO Industrial Estate. The migrant workers should be properly registered by the authorities as per the Inter-State Migrant Workmen Act 1979. The fact finding team has indicated that officials attached to the Directorate of Industrial Safety and Health have hurriedly registered the migrant workers who died after the tragic accident, manipulating documents clearly flouting rules. “We suspect that the records were created in a hurry after the accident. The nine workers had been working in the factory over six months, but officials created the registration documents stating they were new employees,” claimed a member of the National Confederation of Human Rights Organisation (NCHRO) Professor A Marx, who led the four member fact-finding committee.
Marx went on to add that the workers were being exploited and management violated guidelines with respect to the safety of the workers. The employers were exploiting migrant workers as cheap labour, taking advantage of their poverty, compromising on safety regulations and the health of the workers.
“The management of the factory forced the workers to sleep inside the premises. It is a clear violation of the guidelines framed under the Central Government’s Act. They are also being paid poorly (between `5000 and `6000 per month). They work and live amidst toxic waste.” said Marx speaking to Express.
The Deputy Director of Industrial Safety and Health, Sundara Babu admits to negligence on the part of the industry and admitted that employees should be provided accommodation outside the factory to ensure their safety.
Environmental activist, V Srinivasan, part of the fact-finding team, charged widespread corruption and gross negligence not only on the part of the management but also on the part of governing and regulatory bodies such as the TNPCB which directly endangers the lives of workers. “We saw a group of four to five workers engaged in clearing the toxic waste at the accident without wearing or using any safety gear,” said Srinivasan.
The Secure Landfill Facility (SLF) that collapsed leading to the tragic accident was illegally constructed. Going by the affidavit filed by the TNPCB before the Supreme Court, he said that the officials have stated that 3,500 tonnes capacity SLF is under construction in the CETP. “The complicity of TNPCB officials in constructing illegal SLFs is proven beyond doubt. The Chennai Environment Management Company of Tanneries is also equally responsible,” said Srinivasan.