Underage worker dies at Jai Balaji’s sponge iron unit in Durgapur

Jai Balaji Sponge iron unit of Durgapur

Death of an underage worker at a sponge iron unit near Sagarbhanga of Durgapur has once again brought into light the aspect of flouting labor laws in these industries. The death of a 16-year-old boy in an accident at the sponge iron unit of Jai Balaji Group of Industries at Sagarbhanga, has blown the lid off over what appears to be a common phenomenon here – the employment of underage youths in private industrial units, and making them work for long hours in unsafe conditions without standard safety gears.
Sutal Sheikh, a hired laborer, died yesterday after falling on a running conveyor belt from the bunker at the sponge iron unit of Jai Balaji. Sheikh hailed from Pakur in Jharkhand and is at most 16 years old claimed his friends and co-workers at the unit. Several other boys – Kiron Sheikh (16 years), Hassan Sheikh (15 years), Subhas Mal (14 years) – hailing from different locations in Murshidabad, Birbhum and Jharkhand, working in the sponge iron unit at the time of the accident expressed how safety aspects are overlooked and how they are virtually forced to work in unsafe conditions as any “no” means they are thrown out of their job.
The boys are engaged at the plant for manual cleaning and housekeeping jobs and come from different villages in neighboring Birbhum and Murshidabad districts, as also from Pakur in Jharkhand. They are engaged as daily piece-rated laborers. That means no work and no pay.
While the owners of the sponge iron unit do not as such appear to have violated the Child Labor (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, which prohibits the employment of children below 14 years in hazardous occupations but have certainly violated the Factories Act of 1948 that restricts the working hours of such pre-adults to four and a half hours. The laborers employed here work 10 to 12 hours a day without distinction of age.
The CITU’s district committee has expressed strong objections to the practice by the Jai Balaji Group of Industries of engaging children below 18 years. But even CITU leaders can’t move their hands from this burning issue of labor law violation in these sponge iron units of Durgapur. It was during the last 10 years of Left rule that these sponge iron units mushroomed in this part of Bengal and all of them earned the dismal reputation of violating labor laws at their will and flouting environmental laws as well.
Mr. B K Chakraborty, president of the CITU-affiliated Medium & Small Iron & Steel Worker’s Federation said: “An adolescent between 15 and 18 years can be employed in a factory only if he obtains a certificate of fitness from an authorized medical doctor. But here such units never bother to comply with the National Policy either.” Even during the left regime also these couldn’t be brought under control and now also the condition remained the same.
The District Inspector of Factories, Mr. Debabrata Chakraborty was assigned by the SDM, Durgapur immediately after today’s incident to conduct a detailed probe. Mr. Chakraborty, according to senior administration officials, found that adolescent boys were at work there.
State labor minister Mr. Purnendu Basu also expressed concern over the issue. He said: “We will hold an inquiry into the matter and the offenders won’t be spared.”
Joy Balaji, meanwhile, says that the under-age laborers were engaged for work at the factory by an outside contractor agency.

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