Making a Mockery of Labour Laws: Death and Decay in the Quarries of Bundelkhand

In Uttar Pradesh’s Bundelkhand region, stone quarries are a common sight. Privatisation of these quarries, over the years, has meant little supervision from the government when it comes to labour laws and environmental hazards that indiscriminate quarrying has resulted in for people living in the area. Khabar Lahariya has reported on this locally controversial issue from Mahoba and Chitrakoot districts in the region for over 2 years. In the latest incident, a labourer died on duty on 21 August in Chitrakoot’s Bharatkup area under mysterious circumstances. Shockingly, while his last rites were performed on 25 August, no post mortem or inquiry was carried out in the matter.

tazakarviAccording to several locals of Ganda Mod in Bharatkup, who expressed a wish to remain anonymous, Ram Mohan died on the night of 21 August at the local quarry site. The site is run by one M.P. Jaiswal, known as an influential businessman among the locals. These people have alleged that while Ram Mohan had been working at the quarry for over 2 years, no one knew where he came from. Some people indicated that he belonged to the Sipri area in Jhansi. After his death, no serious efforts were made to trace his family. A co-worker of Ram Mohan’s said that while the police did try to look into his familial past, his name was not found in the list of residents of Sipri in Jhansi. Uninterested in exploring any other leads, the case was treated as that of finding an unidentified body and Ram Mohan’s last rites were performed on 25 August. No autopsy was performed and no police case has been registered. No identification was found on Ram Mohan either.

Many have accused the owner of the quarry M.P. Jaiswal for having hushed up the matter. This is not the first time that an enquiry into such an incident was dropped by the local police early on. In March this year, Khabar Lahariya reported of 3 deaths that took place in different quarries in the same Bharatkup area but no arrests were made. In December 2014, Sabir Khan of Gonda village and his co-worker died at a depth of hundred feet when a part of the stone quarry collapsed on them while they were collecting stone. In another case, a 13-year old boy was killed when he happened to be at the quarry, visiting his father who was a labourer there. In either of the cases, no compensation was paid to the families and no inquiries were made into the fact that the contractors or owners might be responsible for these accidents.

Earlier this year, the Officer in charge of Mining in Chitrakoot distrioct, Mr. Pradeep Singh himself said that most families preferred to settle such cases out of court. ‘Family members mostly prefer to settle out of court. The amount for compensation can be mutually agreed upon. It tends to be between 1 and 3 lakhs,’ he had said. With the clout of the quarry owners, most labourers and their families have found it pointless to battle it out in court or even register a formal complaint. With abysmal employment avenues in the region, failing cycles of agriculture and gaping loopholes and corruption in the implementation of NREGA, daily wage workers in Bundelkhand have had to turn to these quarries for employment. Others, have been forced to migrate. Though the quarries have caused significant air and noise pollution, and further ruined a dangerously low water table in the area, the workers have been paid somewhat handsomely with the daily wage rate being at least 400 rupees as compared to the 161 rupees paid to those who work under the NREGA.

In Ram Mohan’s case, the Police Inspector of the Bharatkup Police Station has said that no case has been registered. ‘We are trying to find out where Ram Mohan came from,’ he said. The fact, however, remains that without any background information and no medical records for Ram Mohan it would be next to impossible to trace his family. Another question that begs attention is that how was Ram Mohan recruited by the contractor with no identification? With M.P. Jaiswal coolly distancing himself from the matter and refusing to speak to the media, Ram Mohan’s death is set to become a non event in the stone quarries of Bundelkhand.

Click here to read original Bundeli story