Today, as the world collectively battles the force of nature and revisits history after a century, we remember the workers that have been a prey to the horrors of the Covid-19 pandemic. India with a population of 1.28 billion, 465 million people are engaged in the work force and 80% of the Country’s work force comprises of this “informal sector”, who had to grapple with the uncertainties and consequences brought about by this unfortunate pandemic and the inefficient policy makers of the Country.
As a nationwide lockdown was implemented by the Government within hours of the spreading virus, an overwhelming crisis swept the nation at large but mostly impacted the ones that lack the comfort of a roof or enough food. An exodus of hundreds of migrant laborers undertaking the long journey back home was demonstrated overturning the authentic intention behind the lockdown. This heart wrenching situation arose where thousands of old people, gravid women and children were left to pick up their sticks and march back home. This clearly exposes the lack of a functioning contingency plan, far-foresightedness of the Government. The overnight decision and the frantic imposition of sealed inter-state borders provided no way for these migrant workers to seek shelter.
The legal infrastructure pertaining to the occupational health and safety has been roughly sketched leaving multiple loopholes and lacuna. Therefore, the rise in injury or deaths of these workers does not come as a shock. Needless to emphasize on the callous attitude of the policy makers regarding the workers and lack of ready appropriate measures that could have combat the situation immediately.
Indian Construction sites has seen about 1092 deaths and 377 injured workers in between 2013-2016.The 1993 ban imposed on manual scavenging has been highly disregarded as, about 20,500 people were still identified as scavengers in 2018. It has been reported that a sanitation worker dies in India every 5 days, so how do we reserve faith in our Government that fails to provide preventive care and protection to 80% of the population? Unfortunately, no alarm goes or voices scream in agony against the constant human Rights violation against these workers, or do we not consider them as first class citizens?
The country has been raining with the unfortunate death of about 34 people of Tamil Nadu in 2012 and in 2015, 11 people of West Bengal, Midnapur in a fireworks factory. Whereas, On 8th December, 2019 about 43 sleeping workers in Delhi were killed due to suffocation and smoke as a result of unprecedented fire in a four stories construction building as it had only one entry and exit point. In 2019, 3 people were declared dead in West Bengal in a rice mill, due to the unprecedented collapse of a building. These are a handful of cases that demonstrate the inadequacy in providing a safe haven for these people. About 48,000 workers die every year in Britain as stated by the ILO where India has 20 times more deaths as compared. It is absolutely unacceptable that only 20% of the Indian work force is covered under health benefits and protection from hazards within the legal framework. Due to silicosis there are about more than 4 millions of people are in death bed in India, most of them are working in ordnance factories, stone crashing, construction and building activities and pencil factories.
India has yet not ratified the International Conventions of Protocols of 2002 Occupation Safety and Health Convention 1981, Occupational Health Services Convention, 1985, Safety and Health in Mines Convention and many other which also speak volumes about the consciousness and attitude of the Indian Government and Policy makers.
Indian laws on Occupational health care has been covered as mere humane conditions of work to be provided to workers under Article 42 of the Indian Constitution. The Factories Act, 1948 and the Mines Act, 1952 are the only two legislations out of 16 legislation reserved for workers that provides legal measures to protect the health and safety of the workers. Despite of the active Health institutions like, National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH), Two Regional Occupational Health Centres (ROHCs) in Bangalore and Calcutta and The National Safety Council of India (NSCI), the rate of fatalities does not seem to curb or even slow down.
We the undersigned strongly condemning all human rights violation and on this very day, 28th April, 2020 we would like to raise our voices against this unfortunate state of our Country. We believe the time has come to take steps to make effective amendment, ratification and implementation of a wholesome and comprehensive legal framework that encompasses workers of all industries and strata. The health policies are redundant and need a more modern approach and urgent amendments in the National policy on safety, health and environment at workplaces (2019) with a complete 5 year review demands urgent attention. Today as we remember and honor the lives of these workers who’ve met their ill fate busy building a strong foothold for us to stand, the least we can do is to give them an unbreakable roof and ensure preventive care for the years to come. By 2030 India government had to show that human rights and effective governance based on rule of law has been established (MDG-Goal 16). Those dead workers did not get justice till date. Now deads want justice.
Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samiti
PVCHR, Uttar Pradesh
Nagarik Mancha, West Bengal
People’s Watch, Tamilnadu
Bytes For All, Pakistan
Anastasia Pinto – Goa, concerned citizen
Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM)
Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha
National Convenor (PACTI)
Programme Against Custodial Torture & Impunity
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