Workers rights trampled in the 24-hour toil to meet CWG deadline

9 AUGUST 2010

COMMONWEALTH GAMES 2010, much like Asiad 1982, provided a perfect opportunity to the government, sports bodies and civic bodies to dig up Delhi, its roads, pavements and endlessly inconvenience commuters with construction activity with a laudable object — to present to athletes and visitors a fresh and beautiful face of our Capital and showcase a resurgent India.

And no one, neither the organising committee nor the government, is ready to answer questions about glaring acts of commission and omission in the feverish organising activity. The standard reply — wait till the Games are over and the investigation report thereafter. For, raising corruption issues now could dent our national pride. We will accept it.

But one wonders if our national pride is so flimsy and skin deep that it will get a fillip by building some well-laid footpaths, a few gardens, flyovers, a Metro network and renovating old stadia, which we should have done decades ago.

What about the workers? With less than two months left for the Games, they are toiling almost round-the-clock in sub-human conditions. Has the organising committee, the government and civic authorities bothered to check how most workers are being treated by their contractors? How bare-footed women are spreading crushed stone to pave the expanded roads and how their bare-bodied children play with dirt and stones on the roadside? Have the workers been provided livable accommodation with toilet facilities which a member of the organising committee would feel like using?

Identical questions arose during the run-up to Asiad 1982, which was a grand success due to the able guidance provided by a then young Congress leader, Rajiv Gandhi.

Dealing with pitiable condition of workers engaged in construction work and the government’s stubborn attitude that the contractors’ were responsible to safeguard payment of minimum wages, the Supreme Court in People’s Union for Democratic Rights vs Union of India [1982 SCC (3) 235], popularly known as Asiad case, had castigated the government.

It rejected the government’s objection that workers had not sought enforcement of their rights and hence, the PIL was not maintainable. The SC said, “The poor too have civil and political rights and rule of law is meant for them also, though today it exists only on paper and not in reality. If sugar barons and alcohol kings have the fundamental right to carry on their business and to fatten their purses by exploiting the consuming public, have the dalits belonging to the lowest strata of society no fundamental right to earn an honest living through their sweat and toil?”

Well, there is none who is standing today for them — the faceless workers who have travelled thousands of kilometres to reach Delhi and work relentlessly to help the construction work meet the CWG deadline and save our national pride from being dented.

In the present era, when internet search engines give millions of results in seconds about India’s human development index and the corruption quotient as well as the much highlighted 9% growth rate, do we need to bring up national pride to silence questions about organising CWG 2010?

Everyone in the world knows India stands a poor 85th in the list of honest countries. It was 72nd in 2007 and slid to 85th in 2008. It would be interesting to watch our position after the Commonwealth Games.

A recent Oxford University study used multi-dimensional poverty index — child mortality, nutrition, access to clean drinking water, sanitation, cooking fuel, electricity and years of schooling and child enrolment — to find that more than half of India’s population lived in poverty. These statistics, after 60 years of independence, do hurt our national pride.

Does the CWG organising committee expect all athletes and officials coming from various countries to merely arrive in Delhi, appreciate its beauty, participate in the Games and go back to their homes? What if they ask a guide about starvation deaths, farmers’ suicide and the communal riots in Delhi, Mumbai and Gujarat? Will it not hurt our national pride?

Workers rights trampled in the 24-hour toil to meet CWG deadline – India – The Times of India

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