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.


David J said...

Yes. The high price of cheap labour. Something to remember as we in wealthy countries enjoy the fruits of other peoples work.

Merry Christmas

gs said...

hello david j:
the main reason why manufacturing and other services have moved out from developed economies to china and india is the availability of cheap labour.there must be international mechanisms put in place to ensure that labour is not exploited and exposed to life-threatening risks.
wish you and your family merry christmas and a very happy and prosperous new year.

mangesh said...

A good observation. But where are the manholes now in our Mumbai? Are they also coming from Kolkata?
This is the product of old foundries, which are slowly diminishing.
Thanks for remembering this poor people in this blog, which I read with immense interst.

gs said...

hello mangesh
thanks for your comment.the foundries in kolkata churn out manhole covers to meet most of our domestic demand as well as for the export market.they are very competitively priced.manhole covers are quite heavy and the world over they get stolen to be sold at scrap prices.due to the steel industry being in a state of buoyancy,demand for ferrous scrap is strong.hinged manhole covers are now being used for replacement of old manhole covers which should prevent pilfering.
the wb government must look into the plight of the unfortunate workers of the foundries where the workmen are exploited.

edison said...