New Delhi: The Delhi high court has told the Centre and the state government to ensure that workers at various building sites in the Capital are registered with the Delhi Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Board (DBCWWB) so that their rights are safeguarded.
The court ruling on Tuesday came after the People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) filed a public interest litigation (PIL). It will have a direct impact on the Commonwealth Games (CWG) projects that are racing for completion before the 3-14 October event.
The court notice has been sent to the New Delhi Municipal Corporation, the Delhi Development Authority and the Sports Authority of India as well.
A report titled The 2010 Commonwealth Games: Whose Wealth, Whose Commons? released by the New Delhi-based Housing and Land Rights Network (HLRN) this month said workers employed at the CWG Village were not being paid the legally stipulated minimum wages or overtime. Unskilled workers were being paid Rs85-100 per day against the stipulated minimum wages of Rs142 for eight hours of work. Skilled workers were being paid Rs120-130 per day for eight hours of work even though the stipulated wage is Rs158 per day.
The report alleged that women were paid less than men and that at least one-third of the workers were not paid their wages on time. Workers were often not given safety equipment (and when they were, money was deducted from their wages), it said.
While the exact number of workers on CWG sites is not available, a study by Building and Wood Workers’ International estimated that 300,000 workers will be needed for the Games over three years. The number of workers registered with DBCWWB is under 20,000.
PUDR says that 49 workers have died at various Games sites and that workers from Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Punjab were not given the benefits of the Interstate Migrant Workers Act.
Arundhati Ghose, former Indian ambassador to the UN, who was part of the four-member panel appointed by the high court in February to assess the situation of construction workers on CWG sites, confirmed the HLRN report’s findings.
“We visited several CWG sites and looked at conditions in the context of the Building and Other Construction Workers Act, the Minimum Wages Act and the Migrant (Workers) Act, among others. Most laws that exist are being contravened by the contractors,” said Ghose.
The committee recommended stringent punishment for non-payment of wages, and sought consolidation of numerous labour laws. The court has asked respondents to provide an update on 7 July on the registration of workers.
Mike Hooper, chief executive of the Commonwealth Games Federation, said the federation cannot demand accountability from the contractors or regulators. “The employment laws of India must be respected and if anyone is shown to flout those laws, then action has to be taken by the appropriate authorities,” he said.
Ahluwalia Contracts has the construction contract for the CWG 2010 Village residential project. Chief executive officer Arun Sahai said it provided workers with clean drinking water, a medical inspection room, ventilated living spaces, 110 bathing points and toilets, and paid them according to the Minimum Wages Act.
“Our records are regularly audited and site inspection is regularly carried out by the labour department,” he said.
A Mint team was unable to independently verify his claims. Commonwealth Organising Committee secretary general Lalit K. Bhanot said journalists would not be given permission to enter CWG sites. Workers outside the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium construction site said that they lived in tents made of tin and tarpaulin despite blistering summer temperatures.
The HLRN report recommended an investigation by the National Human Rights Commission. It also said the next time India seeks to host such an event as the CWG, an environmental and social impact assessment, along with a cost-benefit analysis, should be prepared before approval is given.
“This issue is much bigger than just the Commonwealth Games,” said Ghose. “We are building our country on the back of people whose rights are violated every hour of the day.”