Monday Musings: Worksite accidents: Pune Smart City must care for labourers too

Hundreds of crores of rupees are being spent by the government for creating ‘Smart Cities’ across the country. In Pune, the Aundh-Baner-Balewadi (ABB) localities have been identified for a range of projects- from smart lighting to beautiful footpaths and a bicycle sharing plan (which failed). There is going to be smart, sensor-driven solid waste management too, public spaces and of course, the electric buses.

Some of these heavily funded projects, initiated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself, have been implemented well by the Pune Smart City Development Corporation Ltd (PSCDCL) led by its chief executive officer (CEO) Rajendra Jagtap. These include the excellent footpaths which have extended beyond ABB and have made a presence on Fergusson College road and JM road, thanks to Pune Municipal Corporation’s (PMC) Smart Streets project.

All of this is being created for the city by the labourers working under contractors and sub-contractors. Should the PSCDCL led by IAS officers and other bureaucrats not show some sensitivity towards these labourers, especially when they meet with life-threatening accidents? Should this government body too behave like crass builders and developers who wash off their hands quickly once their labourers die or maim themselves at site accidents?

This issue has come to fore because of what happened in Pune on October 6.

On October 6, Eknath Bawari, a 48-year-old labourer working on a Smart City project at Baner-Balewadi survey number 108, almost sawed his leg off because his contractor asked him to cut wood planks with a stone grinding machine instead of the appropriate equipment. Bawari raised this with the contractor, but he brushed this concern aside by saying that the equipment will take two days to arrive and work cannot be delayed.

When the accident happened, there was no one from the contractor or the Smart City Corporation to help a profusely bleeding Bawari. There was no first aid at the site. Finally, alerted by his cries for help, it was the residents of the neighbouring Crossroads society in Baner-Balewadi who rushed to his help, with one of them taking the injured man to the Aundh Civil Hospital in her own car. From there he was admitted to the Sassoon General Hospital for treatment.

This prompt action from the residents not only saved Bawari’s leg from amputation, but also his life as he had been bleeding profusely.

Till Saturday- five days since the accident- neither the Pune Smart City authorities nor the contractor-supervisor Gopal Waghole had extended any assistance to the poor labourer. On Friday, when this newspaper checked with Rajendra Jagtap, the Pune Smart City CEO, he assured the fullest assistance saying, “We will help in every possible way and compensate through the contractor”.

On Saturday, Waghole confirmed that not even the smallest amount had been given to the labourer towards emergency monetary assistance to meet his daily expenses. “We will be helping Eknath with medicines and other medical necessities that he will be needing now that he is discharged,” Waghole said.

For how long are we Indians going to accept such crass insensitivity towards labourers who suffer serious accidents at construction worksites?

As a responsible public body, the Pune Smart City Corporation needs to ensure the following:

•It must have a ‘role and responsibility’ policy in place for itself and its contractors in the event of worksite accidents.

•This policy must include provision for a) first aid at construction sites, b) immediate medical assistance and transportation of the injured victims to the nearest hospital c) immediate emergency financial aid and d) compensation in the event of death or disability.

Public bodies should eventually take responsibility and be accountable for the accidents that happen on their worksites.

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