Delhi Factory Fires

THE Delhi government’s continued laxity in matters of industrial safety keeps taking lives of workers in factory fires.

Recently another factory fire in the Jhilmil Industrial Area took the lives of at least three workers. On earlier occasions there had been factory fires in industrial areas of Narela, Bawana, Sultanpuri, Mundka, Narayana, and other places, killing large numbers of workers.   

AICCTU held a protest on 16 July in front of Delhi’s Labour Minister Gopal Rai, submitting a memorandum reminding him that his office had failed to heed the demands of workers regarding industrial safety.

Violations Of Labour Laws Cost Lives

After the Bawana Factory fire in February 2018, AICCTU had pointed out that the CAG report had pulled up the Delhi Government for its failure to enforce that factories comply with labour laws protecting workers’ health and safety. The Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) on Social, General and Economic Sectors (Non-Public Sector Undertakings) for the year ended 31 March 2016 (Paragraph 2.4.7.4) had found that “Factory licences were granted without ensuring whether factories had prepared the Health and Safety Policy in 54 out of 55 cases.”

The AICCTU fact finding team that visited the burnt down factory in Jhilmil in Shahdara, found that safety rules and norms openly violated with impunity by the owner. The factory was producing plastic water taps without a valid license.

Locked In

The Delhi CM has announced a compensation of 5 lakh rupees to the families of three workers whom it accepts were killed. But it is suspected that the number of deaths might be even higher.

50 workers were on the job at the factory at the time of the fire. Rules demand that every factory must have at least two exits in separate directions, but there was a single entry/exit gate - which was locked. It is not permissible for a production unit to have only one entry/exit gate in the premises under the Factories Act, but in this case it was only one door and that too was locked. Sadly, this is common feature in all the industrial areas in Delhi and NCR.

This is not first time that the factory gates were locked from outside at the time of a fire. Locking the gates is a highly illegal and criminal act on the part of the owners of factories but this is also the norm in Delhi as most of the production units here are engaged in production without proper legal sanctions and without fulfilling the safety rules under the very gaze of the administration.

Last year there was a big fire in a factory in Bawana where many workers were killed. Then again the doors of the factory were locked from outside and the total number of workers killed was doubted by the workers who were present nearby. The owner of that factory got bail from the court very easily because the police deliberately did not place this fact before the court that the doors were locked at the time of the accident. Now one can speculate about the outcome of police inquiry in this case too. The workers of Delhi are not quite hopeful of any positive action from any government agency regarding their safety at workplace!

Lawlessness And Hypocrisy  

The workers in this particular factory had to work under such life threatening conditions on a meagre monthly wage of Rs. 8000 only, without any benefit of provident fund, ESI or Bonus etc. There was no provision for weekly day off or holiday. The minimum wage rates in Delhi are around Rs. 14000 per month. But then the right to unionise is a distant dream in face of repressive employers and a lax government. Yet, the Delhi Government uses the theoretical right to unionise to evade its own responsibilities! According to the Industrial Disputes Act, the Government is supposed to ensure that industries employing more than 100 employees set up a ‘Works Committee’ to protect workers’ rights. The CAG report says that to explain away the Government’s failure “to check whether all industries having 100 or more employees had constituted the Works Committees”, the “Government stated (November 2016) that with the limited number of inspectors, it was not possible to check each and every establishment adding that trade unions play an important role in espousing the interests of workers and Works Committees do not have much significance”! So while workers are penalised and victimised for joining trade unions, the same unions are cited as an alibi when the Government is accused of failing to do its job to protect workers!         

An official of municipal corporation of East Delhi has admitted that the said factory was operating without a license which amply exposes the nexus between the officials of MCD, Labour and Police departments. The factory is located in a very unsafe narrow lane where electrical wires are hanging overhead so dangerously that it made rescue work more difficult.

Such dangerous workplace conditions are nothing bit modern day slavery. There have been no proper audits for factory safety even after so many accidents in any of the industrial areas.