Who doesn’t dream of buying a car? Or a two-wheeler? It’s a matter of comfort for someone and a status symbol for someone else. There can be many other reasons to buy it, but what if I will say that many people have given their lives in the manufacturing process of these machines. Thousands of workers have lost their limbs, fingers, and palms while making these vehicles. It happens on an everyday basis, lesser known to the outside world but most frequently occurring.
The data gathered by Safe in India (SII), my host organization, (working towards the welfare of workers employed in auto sector industries, specially those suffering from injuries and accidents at work) shows that on an average, more than two such accidents happen every day in India. This is the reported number. The real figures can go up to double of this data because several cases go unreported, or are covered up by the employers for the sake of showing the implementation of ‘Zero accident policy‘. In some cases, people are given some small amounts as against the full compensation, just to keep their mouth shut. Being poor and helpless, they often don’t have any other option.
During our first week in the organization, as we (a co-fellow and I) were being inducted, we were asked to visit the places where we would meet our community. Sensing was an important aspect of all the visits. Within 2-3 days, we started communicating with the people. The idea was to get an overview of the work being done by the organization. Being on ground helped us establish the first contact with the workers in the auto sector. More than 60% of them are below the age of 30 years, which was painful to digest.
The youth who are often declared the future of our country are being pushed into the darkness where they don’t have any other option than to survive, live alone thinking about their ambitions or dreams.
A single car is assembled with nearly 30,000 parts that come from smaller manufacturers who are making individual parts, ranging from the smallest ones like bolts and screws to the bigger ones like the outer shield/structure. If we compare the safety standards in different tiers of manufacturers, then in Tier I and II, we can see high safety measures and norms because of their direct connection to OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers). However, it is just opposite for Tier III and IV manufacturers who are not in the direct proximity of OEMs and thus, compromising on safety at the cost of productivity is not a major concern for them. Due to large workforce availability, they can hire workers anytime, skilled or unskilled.
The main causes of these accidents and injuries lie in the hiring process, such as:
- Most of the workers are hired as helpers and then they are asked to perform the operator’s role
- Educational qualification required for fresher operator’s role should be ITI or Polytechnic but this criterion is not strictly followed because of the cost facto. Higher the qualification, higher will be the fair wage.
- Lack of appropriate training as per the training manual
- Ineffective supervision
- Sine most workers are hired through contractors and on temporary basis, they are not eligible for the company benefits and it goes on like this for many years
- Lack of awareness of the insurance policy provided to them by the government body i.e. Employees State Insurance Corporation (ESIC)
In the words of Ravinder Singh*, father of a 22 year old injured worker Sabu singh* who lost his four fingers,
“मना किया था की अभी मत जाओ, दिवाली के बाद जाना, पर ये माना नहीं और अब देखो क्या हो गया है. अभी उम्र ही क्या थी, सोचा था पैरों पे खड़ा होगा तो शादी करवाऊंगा. अब वो भी कैसे होगी!”
This is just one of the many statements conveying its own grief and misery. Still, their situation remains the same. No one is there to guide them in this concern.
The bigger issue is that even after suffering these injuries, the story doesn’t end. Most of these workers are on a contractual basis and so, claiming the relief entitled from the government as well as from the employer becomes much more difficult. In a lot of cases, employers promise compensation in exchange of making them a permanent employee. But these promises aren’t always fulfilled. The worker again stays engaged for a short term, say a couple of months before getting fired.
In the case of ESIC, to avail the compensation and other benefits, they have to go through the elaborate administrative procedures about which they are not well aware. The process becomes strenuous, lengthy and demotivating, and so, a lot of workers ultimately give up on their benefits.
Rani devi* works to provide good education to her child. Her husband is a drunkard, and she is the main earning member in the family. She met with an unfortunate accident where she lost two fingers and a thumb of her working hand. Now the company is not supporting her. The contractor helped her for a week but after that she was alone and clueless. She had suffered a lot in her journey after the accident until she met the SII team and got complete support with the ESIC process. She has now received the benefits partially and will soon get her pension too.
Going back to the question of buying cars, I’m not suggesting that we should stop buying them but at least we can think about those working to make those vehicles and what we can do for them directly and indirectly. The kind of situations they work in, are not highlighted and known to a regular customer. They are not put in the public view. Thus, the number of accidents in these factories are not decreasing at a fast pace. SII has raised the voice among all stakeholders and has escalated the issue at all possible levels. Still, a lot has to be done. With combined efforts and dedication, soon we will see a drastic change in the numbers of casualties.
*Name changed to protect identity
The dark side of India’s vibrant auto industry; 1,369 injured in 4 years in trail of grave losses