ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Urban Migrant Labour: Shattered Lives, Neglected Laws

Shattered Lives, Neglected Laws Alarge proportion of Mumbai


Shattered Lives, Neglected Laws

large proportion of Mumbai’s population sleeps on the city’s pavements. And they are not just beggars and destitutes, but rag pickers, employees of small hotels, bakeries, roadside stalls, garages and daily wage labourers in bigger establishments. Many of them can even be found sleeping on road dividers on the broader streets of the city. Every night, they are vulnerable to threats of various kinds;

Economic and Political Weekly November 18, 2006

of late a major threat has come from reckless driving by drunken lovers of speed.

In the early hours of November 12, a Toyota Corolla carrying six inebriated youth, climbed onto a pavement in the Bandra suburb of Mumbai and killed seven persons (all migrant labourers from Andhra Pradesh). Predictably and rightly enough, memories of earlier such incidents in Mumbai and elsewhere were evoked in indignant media debates and public discussions. But what got little attention was the culpability of the labour contractor who should have ensured that the workers were not forced to sleep on the pavement.

On May 12 this year, a security guard of a housing complex in Goregaon, another suburb of Mumbai, was seriously injured when a 17-year-old student knocked him down in a speeding car. The boy who was racing against a fellow student, lost control of the car and rammed into the guard. Both the boys were in their school uniforms at the time of the accident. Mumbai of course has its own unenviable list of such accidents. In 1997, Puru Raaj Kumar, son of a film star, drove over pavement dwellers, killing three of them and severely injuring a fourth. Then in 2002 we had Bollywood’s macho man Salman Khan running his sports utility vehicle over some people sleeping, killing one and injuring three others. In August 2005, industrialist Manish Khatau ran over a constable at Marine Drive. And of course, from Delhi there is the infamous BMW case wherein Sanjeev Nanda, member of an arms contractor family, ran his car at high speed through a police checkpoint in January 1999 killing six people.

These cases were made much of because of the rich and the famous involved and the hype that is always generated around the misdemeanours of the “VIP brats” as the media loves to call them. But there have been fatalities among the pavement dwelling poor families, which are not publicised. In January this year, a drunken taxi driver in Mumbai lost control of his vehicle and rammed into the Pawar family living on the pavement in central Mumbai, killing four instantly and maiming a child.

There are of course two issues staring us in the face here: the problem of reckless driving by drunk drivers and poor living conditions of those who keep Mumbai’s famed economy running smoothly. The drunk drivers in such accidents can be subjected to a maximum charge of culpable homicide not amounting to murder, a bailable offence that carries with it a two to 10 years’ imprisonment sentence. Invariably of course, bail is granted while the case drags on and on in the courts, the victims of the accidents are forgotten and the injured are simply forced to get on with the daily battle for survival.

As far as the latest road carnage is concerned, the labourers from Andhra Pradesh were brought to the city on behalf of the New India Construction Company and Shantinath Constructions. They were working on a Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation project for road concretisation and laying of sewerage pipelines. According to the state labour commissioner there are 38 laws governing contractual work. That is a lot of legislation when you contrast it with the dismal conditions of contract labourers everywhere. The excuse is that the number of inspectors to ensure that these laws are implemented is severely inadequate for the task at hand. Besides, there is the confusion over contract tender clauses, which require the contracting firm to house, feed and transport the labourers on its own. Who is the principal employer in such cases and where does the buck stop?

We definitely need stricter policing as far as speed driving under the influence of alcohol is concerned and, of course, quicker convictions of the guilty. But along with this, we also need to look at what can be done to ensure that those who slave for 14 hours a day and more to keep Mumbai ticking, are not forced to live on roads and pavements because the law is not implemented.


Economic and Political Weekly November 18, 2006

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