With just the first rains and within a period of three days Pune has witnessed two major collapses of compound walls that have left 22 people dead.
It speaks so terribly of our building infrastructure and callousness towards constructions workers, yet, efforts for their safety never improves.
It is utterly ghastly and shocking that, within a period of three days, two compound wall collapses led to the death of 22 construction labourers – one of a housing society in Kondhwa and the other of the Sinhagad Institutes, on Sinhagad Road.
Earlier, this year itself, a rag picker woman and a small boy, in two different incidents, had died in similar circumstances.
Pune is one of the leading urban cities for residential and commercial construction, a boom which triggered off after the onset of the IT/ITES boom over two decades back. So, while we have concrete structures mushrooming in several neighbourhoods, the safety aspect for the underprivileged class of migrant labourers who come from different parts of the country is sadly lacking.
Every other day, a labourer dies on construction site as per Jayant Shinde, head of the Bandhkam Kamgar Sanghatana (construction labourers’ association), who has been campaigning for their safety and basic needs since the last several years.
He claims that 110 such deaths were recorded in 2018, as per his count. Alleging that there is complete secrecy and opaqueness in these tragedies,
Shinde stated that the figures could be much more but does not get information from the appropriate authorities. When he invoked RTI in the Labour Commissioner’s office, seeking information on the number of deaths in 2018, the reply was 40 deaths. The reason for his allegation, those authorities are fudging up the actual number of deaths, to allegedly safeguard the builder and developer lobby.
That, these deaths are trivialised by the local authorities, manifests in the excuses that are promptly made public, in the immediate aftermath of such horrendous tragedies.
For example, the two fatal compound wall collapses were promptly attributed to the rains. This in itself is laughable, as firstly the rains in Pune last week were not as torrential and secondly, in any case, such concrete structures should not be falling like nine pins even if the rains come very heavy. Also, in both cases, they were newly constructed compound walls and not part of some old building, waiting to crumble.
Each time such a tragedy happens, public and media outrage leads to some knee jerk action by the municipal authorities and the police. Thanks to Chief Minister’s intervention and media and public outrage, the builders of the Kondhwa property have been booked, but whether any heads of senior civic authorities will roll and licenses of this builder be cancelled, is being looked at with scepticism.
What’s happened in the case of the nine labourers who fell to their death in 2012 while the 13th floor of an apartment of a leading construction was being constructed? Is the builder in jail or has any city engineer or any authority in the civic body been sacked from the job? Did any corporator worth his or her salt, take out a morcha against the builder? Well, mum’s the word and this property is still happily flourishing with more phases added to it.
Apart from tragedies, isn’t it the builder/developer duty-bound to ensure that the labourers who toil relentlessly for them, get the basic necessities of shelter?
Sadly, they are kept in shoddy cubicles, without even water supply or sanitation. Presuming that, these businessmen and their employees who oversee the construction, have knowledge of civil engineering, it comes as a crude joke that they should build the tenements of their labourers, so close to a compound wall, (which sometimes is built on a slope) and make them vulnerable to loss of life and limbs..
Now, the PMC has suddenly done a survey to find that out of the 40 odd compound walls, six look dangerous. Okay, so they will ask the builder to make it sturdier I guess, but what about implementing the norms of standard quality?
What about strict action Like cancelling the builders license if he is found to be negligent in his responsibility and duty?
Unlikely that such stringent action will be implemented for all constructions in the city –it will be confined to only few cases which get public attention. For, the nexus between the builder-babu-neta is just too thick. I’ve myself heard a builder say to his supervisor over the phone that he should unabashedly encroach on land, more than given permission for, as he will take it up with the authorities.
Regularising illegal structures is such a convenient way for the power lobbies to pay a pittance and for authorities to easily keep making illegal, legal.
So, when the builder lobby is sitting pretty with the powers-that-be on its side, will things ever improve for the poor? They will be used like utility items as, if they die, there is a line of others who would do these construction jobs to make ends meet.
Moreover, I always wonder as to how these errant builders are not God-fearing?
Do they not fear that sometime or the other they would have to pay for such callousness? Or do they think that money can buy just anything?
That’s what the rich thought about garbage, water and air pollution. Till it hit only the poor, there was no much outrage; now that it is directly hitting every citizen, across various stratas, climate change is being talked about in parties too over cocktails.
The need for voluntarily instilling ethics and values in the construction industry is the urgent need of the hour for the entrepreneurs in this field.
#All views expressed in this column are those of the author and Pune365 does not necessarily subscribe to them.
That's Vinita Deshmukh, Senior journalist and RTI activist who believes in journalism that reflects the views and needs of the common man.
Get Real And Stay Relevant says Vinita,