Thursday, December 20, 2007

manhole workers work in blackholes

kolkata is infamous for the terrible blackhole incident which occurred in 1756 during the period of the east india company when hundreds of british soldiers of the east india company were pushed into a dark room in fort william without any ventilation resulting in the death of about 140 of them. siraj ud daula, the then nawab of the entire eastern region, was reacting to the meddling by the company in the political affairs of the bengal state.fearing that bengal will lose its independence,he laid a siege on fort williams. it was called the fort william massacre. more than 150 years later,kolkata is witness to a blackhole in a manhole factory.a foundry in howrah manufactures manhole cover castings and exports them to usa and other countries.the working conditions are appalling.

last year during one of my visits to london,i was quite pleased to see the 'made in india' label on all the manhole covers in a london street when i was strolling in west kensington. little did i know then that the labour practices in the kolkata factory where most of these manholes are manufactured are horrendous.barechested workers with lungis folded up or wearing shorts and barefeet or with hawaii slippers toil for more than 12 hours a day in subhuman onditions under high temperatures(2500 degrees farenheit) and handle molten metal whic is used to make these castings with the minimum of safety equipment. they work on minimum wages stipulated by the west bengal government or less which for their type of work could be less than one dollar and fifty cents a day.the workers in the usa where these manholes are exported earn about 25 dollars an hour! the owners of the factory say that they have to compete with china and therefore they cannot afford to incur higher costs.however,there has been no accident in the foundry so far.that,if true, is indeed a miracle. i wonder what would be the situation in a chinese foundry making similar products. i wouldn't be surprised if conditions are worse than in howrah.