“Darr toh lagta hai sahab, by majboori hai isliye karna padta hai (Of course there is fear, but I have no choice but to do this job),” says Amarjeet Kumar, 35, as he places his blue helmet on a table and sips tea at a makeshift stand in Sector 65 near the golf course. Extension road in Gurgaon. Several buildings and skyscrapers under construction – including luxury condominiums and shopping complexes – tower above the stall in the evolving skyline of Millennium City.
Kumar, a construction worker from Patna, has just come down for a 10-minute break from a similar 36-storey building where he is carrying out “closing” work. The brochure for the project he is working on promises “an elevated lifestyle experience” to buyers.
Kumar says he is unaware the accident a few days ago at a construction site in Sector 77, where four workers died and one was injured after falling from the 17th floor of a residential project during the dismantling of a crane. But, he is not surprised. “Harr ek-do mahine mein ek haadsa hota hai (Every month or so there is an incident like this),” he says.
Each time he climbs, he is aware of the “risk”. “The formwork consists of being suspended on a high platform. You can slip, a hook can let go, a rope can break…”.
He recalls an incident in 2019 when he was deployed to a construction site in Greater Noida. “We were perched on an iron platform on the 19th floor when a workmate fell to his death… At that moment, we think of his family. Who will take care of them if I suffer such a fate?
Most importantly, he avoids dwelling on it, says Kumar. “It’s up to fate.”
It was in 2013 that Kumar left his home in a village in Patna to find work and took a train to Delhi. After several odd jobs, notably as a helper in a company that pays him
Rs 95 a day, he landed carpentry jobs with the help of a friend on a construction site.
A decade later, he worked on several construction sites in Noida, Delhi and Gurgaon. “The tallest building in our village was a three-story water tank. I had never climbed it. Now I work on buildings that are over 100 meters high,” he smiles.
Kumar is paid 1,000 rupees a day for a shift that spans 12 hours and is grateful that there is work most days of the month. He still shivers thinking about the peak of Covid, when all construction came to a halt and he had to walk home, being out of work for months. Of his income, he sends half of his income to his family – his wife and three children, aged 3 to 7 years old.
Kumar has also found some kind of family here in Gurgaon, others like him mostly from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. At playtime, they emerge wearing helmets and blue and yellow tiffins, buildings all around.
Most of them live within walking distance of construction sites, gaining
Rs 400 to Rs 1,000 per day depending on the nature of the skill involved. The contractors who hire them install them in tin-roofed shacks, often 30 per shed. They move from site to site, depending on the job, provided the basics of three meals a day, water and electricity, visiting the house no more than twice a year.
Ranjit Kumar, 19, from Ballia in Uttar Pradesh, lives in a labor camp near Sector 50 and works on scaffolding. “The roof leaks when it rains, but at least there’s bed and food here,” he says.
Ravikant Kumar, 27, from Supaul district in Bihar, comments on the irony. “Hum logon ke liye bada ghar banate hain, by hamara pucca ghar nahin (We build these big houses for people, but we don’t have a permanent house of our own).
At the tea stand, showing a nearby shopping mall, Manzar Alam (19) talks about two workers who died there in June after falling from the 19th floor. They must not have been given safety harnesses, he said. “A belt would have saved them.”
Alam, originally from Bhais Bandha village in Katihar, Bihar, comes from a farming family. Forced to move because “there is no work in the village”, he first worked as a helper.
Now in his sixth month in construction work, Alam still clearly remembers the first time he climbed into a skyscraper. “My feet were shaking. We were given gloves, boots, a harness, a jacket and a helmet. The contractor also provides training, but an incident can occur at any time. During the summer months, when the heat is unbearable, workers often do not wear safety equipment because it is cumbersome to work in. »
Workers say that while large contractors provide safety equipment, including safety nets, enforcement at smaller sites is lax.
Newsletter | Click to get the best explainers of the day delivered to your inbox
In the aftermath of the recent deaths, Gurgaon Deputy Commissioner Nishant Yadav announced the establishment of a four-member committee under the leadership of a Subdivision Magistrate to investigate the incident, in addition to the compensation for the families of the dead and injured. The district administration ordered a safety audit of all construction sites and ordered construction companies to comply with safety standards.
The Haryana Building Workers and Other Construction Workers (Employment and Conditions of Service Regulations) Rules 2005 state that in every establishment where 500 or more workers are habitually employed, a safety committee shall be formed to identify probable causes of accidents and unsafe practices, and suggest measures to improve welfare facilities. The rules also require safety officers to carry out inspections and investigate all fatal accidents.
Gufran Ahmed, who worked as a scaffolder at the same site, says things will soon be back to “normal”. “On construction sites, due to the speed of execution of the work and the costs involved, safety measures are ignored. If workers complain, they are simply asked to quit,” he says.