What happened in the early hours of Sunday 8th December was a gruesome tragedy. Forty-three sleeping workers were burnt or suffocated by smoke as their workplace north Delhi’s Anaj Mandi area caught fire. A massive blaze ripped through a four-storey building where these workers were fast asleep after their work. They lived and work in the second floor of this building. They died despite heroic efforts by firemen to pull them out. It was too late to save these victims, though some others were pulled out and suffered injuries.
Why did the fire occur? And what was the condition that prevented a safe escape for these workers, who were from the poorest families, migrants from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh?
It is reported that the fire started because of a short circuit. The fire could not be put out fast enough nor could the workers escape or be pulled out fast enough despite fire engines being rushed to the scene and despite 150 brave firemen risking their own lives to rescue them. This is because the building was in a congested area and firemen had to cut window grills to access the building. There was no fire exit. The building had only one exit while the other was blocked with the material for bags and finished bags that the workers were manufacturing and packing. There was no fire safety equipment in the building for putting out the fire. Photographs in the media show loose wires hanging down in the building, with no semblance of insulation. The workers are forced to work and live in inhuman conditions in order to make a basic living so that they can provide for themselves and their families.
Disasters of this nature are an indictment of this system, which is still stuck in medieval conditions in large areas of the National Capital Region. Such disasters cannot be called accidents. They occur because of criminal negligence and callousness of those who run the State and administration. Any country which calls itself modern must have planned industrial or manufacturing locations with safe infrastructure and safeguards from occupational hazards, properly registered with and regulated by the Administration.
Every worker has a right to safe and healthy working conditions. The world over and in India, workers have been fighting for this right over decades. Workers have succeeded in getting some legislation passed because of their struggles. However, in this anti-worker capitalist system, the laws are violated blatantly. The Administration and government not only know that laws are being violated; they collaborate to actually enable this. Neither the Delhi government nor the Centre, which has control of law and order in the national capital, can escape responsibility for the crime.
We must demand that those who have command responsibility for the safety and security of the people must be tried and punished. It is only the ending of this profit maximising anti-worker system that can ensure prevention of such tragedies and safe working conditions for workers.