Monday, March 16, 2015

Supriya Sharma: Your car has been built on an assembly line of broken fingers // ‘Make in India’ is an empty slogan without ‘Safe in India’, say workers

“I’m lucky,” said Lokesh Kumar as he held up his left hand for examination. “I pulled out in time.” Half a centimetre of his thumb had been shaved off by a machine. Kumar works in Manesar, India’s leading automobile hub, about 50 km from Delhi, in Haryana’s Gurgaon district. Around 80,000 workers work here at more than 600 companies, with a majority producing components for cars and bikes. Last week over morning tea, as night-shift workers emerged bleary-eyed, and day-shift workers trooped in with their tiffin-boxes, the young man in his twenties told me stories of the scores of accidents he had seen in the years since he arrived from his village in Bihar.

“In every factory, you would find at least ten boys with broken fingers,” he said. “About half of the boys who’ve come from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar to work in Haryana have lost their fingers." This sounded hyperbolic until I visited the hospital for workers run by the central government’s Employee's State Insurance Corporation. Five patients sat in the orthopaedic department waiting for a doctor’s consultation. Four of them were cases of “crush injuries”.

“We see about 20 cases of crush injuries everyday,” said Dr Pankaj Bansal, the orthopaedic surgeon at the hospital. “In most cases, the fingers are auto-amputated, which means they have been lost even before the worker has come to us. In some cases, the entire hand is lost.” Not just the orthopaedic department, even the emergency ward in the hospital sees a steady stream of crush injuries, which are also called cut injuries. The records examined by Scroll showed 20 cases in the ten days between November 19-28. ... read more:

‘Make in India’ is an empty slogan without ‘Safe in India’, say workers
When the owner of the factory came to see him in hospital at night, Ram Babu Pandey, felt a surge of gratitude. His left hand had been crushed on the shop floor that morning in a machine that shapes plastic into the soles of shoes. For hours, pain clouded his head but once the medicines took effect, it gave way to anxiety. “My first thought was what would happen to my daughters,” said the young man, not yet 25, but at the helm of a family. “The malik reassured me. He said, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll make you permanent, and we’ll transfer money into a bank account for your daughters.’”

Two months later, Pandey still awaits a letter of regular employment. The bank account has not been opened. And he has begun to suspect that it wasn’t generosity that prompted the factory owner to admit him to a private hospital.

“He did not want me to go to the ESI hospital,” he said. “He was worried that the ESI officers would get to know that he had not enrolled me in the scheme.”

Better known as ESI, the Employees’ State Insurance scheme gives cover for sickness, disability and death to workers who earn less than Rs 15,000 a month. For this, the employer must enroll the worker with the ESI Corporation. The worker contributes 1.75% of her salary and the employer puts in another 4.75%. But many employers, keen to cut costs, do not enroll their workers with the ESI. Not only does this deny workers like Pandey access to insurance benefits, it also keeps the government in the dark over the true scale of shop floor injuries.

A hidden crisis
In 2005, the International Labour Organisation published a report on work-related accidents around the world. It pointed out a strange anomaly: India had reported 222 fatal accidents that year, while the Czech Republic, with a working population of about 1% of India's, had reported 231. The ILO estimated that the “true number of fatal accidents” taking place in India every year was 40,000.

But the last available data shows the Ministry of Labour and Employment continues to report a fraction of this number. For the year 2010, this comes to 1,064 fatal accidents and 10,111 non-fatal injuries, which add up to 11,175 shop floor injuries across India.

But a state-wise breakup of the data shows why the numbers are most likely gross underestimates. Gujarat reported 2,992 injuries in 2010 but none in the previous three years... 
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