Monday, August 16, 2010

Games Site: Kids at Risk of Death

Jayanti is traumatized by the thought of the speeding truck that crushed to death her two-year-old daughter, Varsha, on Monday night inside the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium complex. The world has collapsed for her and her husband, Hari, but it’s work as usual at the complex. The fear of the contractors enforcing a strict deadline was palpable on Wednesday. Hundreds of laborers worked at a frantic pace while security guards maintained a hawkish vigil at the many gates.

Jayanti, 22, and her husband came to Delhi just over a month back from their village close to Jhansi to join the thousands working at Commonwealth Games construction sites. And their world has turned upside down.

When this reporter of TOI visited the stadium complex on Wednesday, all the gates were well-guarded with security men keeping the workers away from any questioning. Outside the gates, one saw laborers, both men and women, doing streetscaping work. Most were afraid to talk and few were aware of the death of a child inside the complex. With parents at work, children were seen playing in the midst of construction material and equipment on the road.

Jayanti said they had been employed for about 15 days at this site and were getting Rs 130 each as daily wages. The work hours stretch from 8.00 am to 8.00 pm. Weeping for her daughter, Jayanti said on Monday evening, she had asked the in-charge if she could leave for the day with her daughter at 7.00 pm but she wasn’t allowed to go.

When the truck appeared from nowhere and crashed into the footpath, the workers ran to safety but Varsha came under the wheels and died on the spot. The driver managed to escape in the chaos though the gate is well-guarded. The police was called and a case registered. Officials at the Lodi Road Police Station said the driver had been traced and was being brought to Delhi from Himachal Pradesh.

Hari said in the past two days they have received no help from the authorities, not even a few words of consolation. Geeta, another construction worker, who also belongs to Jhansi, complained that she has been working at the site for over a month now and there are no facilities for children. ‘‘They make us work all day, and with no place to leave the children behind, we have to take them to the site where they just play around,’’ she said, pointing out her four children. There are many more inside the complex.

Anjali Alexander from the Commonwealth Games-Citizens Workers Women and Children’s network says a crèche is critical at such sites till work is on as children cannot be left in unsafe zones. ‘‘We had set up a crèche with the assistance of the state labor department at a few sites, including JLN stadium. This crèche started in 2008 July and continued with labor board funding till August 2009. After that we ran the crèche till April 2010 with other resources, but then we asked by the authorities to leave as the work was going to get over. We kept pointing out that there were children there but no one listened to us,’’ said Anjali.