India: Trade unions raise alarm on growing number of fatal infrastructure accidents

(Photo: Chief Minister Zoramthanga)

An under construction railway bridge collapsed in the Sairang area of India’s Mizoram State on 23 August which resulted in the death of 23 construction workers, many of whom were migrants from the West Bengal State. The country’s Ministry of Railway called for an immediate probe of the accident and announced the giving of INR 1 million worth of compensation to each family of the victims. 

The railway bridge collapse is only the latest in a long line of infrastructure disasters in India that have jeopardised the lives of numerous workers and civilians. According to BWI trade union affliates, the principal causes of the accidents are government neglect and lax implementation of labour rules, notably workplace health and safety. Last 1 August, 17 people, including workers, engineers and technicians, were crushed to death after a girder machine collapsed at a highway construction site at the Samruddhi Expressway. The government has since filed charges against the project’s sub-contractor. 

BWI’s Indian affiliates are some of the strongest voices in condemning government and employers’ negligence which allowed for the use of sub-standard materials, design and structural deficiencies, and turned a blind eye on the lack of health and safety measures. The trade unions argued that if accident prevention strategies and practices were in place and participatory health and safety committees are existing, unnecessary injuries and loss of lives could have been prevented. “We cannot silently watch while totally preventable workplace accidents injure and take the lives of many workers, As trade unionists, we need to continuously out primacy on the importance of OHS and work towards safer workplaces. We have been regularly raising this issue on various platforms, including meetings with the central and state governments. Our tripartite and social dialogues must be strengthened to establish clear levels of responsibilities and accountability,’  BWI Indian Affiliates Council Chair Dr. R C Khuntia said.