More than 75 workers lost their lives and over 100 others were critically wounded in a series of accidents across India between May and June. At least 30 industrial-related accidents have occurred in the span of just one month, as per IndustriALL Global Union, which estimates that one worker has died every second day since India began unwinding the COVID-19 lockdown.
Activist groups have highlighted a pattern of systemic failures – industries halted without proper shutdown processes and poor planning, along with failure to ensure adequate maintenance and inspection during the lockdown has led to a rise in accidents as industries begin reopening across the country. Several labor unions have argued that the occurrence of such fatal accidents could have been avoided had the Indian authorities taken necessary safety measures to prevent “industrial homicide”.
On June 25, IndustriALL Global in a letter to prime minister Narendra Modi asked the government to intervene and address the systemic breakdown in safety controls in industries in order to avert potential catastrophes.
On July 1, an explosion in a thermal power plant of the government-owned Neyveli Lignite Corporation India Ltd (NLC) in Tamil Nadu killed at least 13 workers. In May, eight people died in a boiler explosion in Gujarat’s Dahej district, while 40 more workers were injured. In another accident, on May 7, a toxic gas leak at the LG Polymers plant in Andhra Pradesh was a reminder of the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy in which almost 2,500 people had lost their lives.
Worker’s casualties have persisted even this July, as several accidents across the country in different chemical plants, coal mines, steel factories, power stations have been recorded. “Widespread use of contract workers, lack of safety inspections, inadequate penal action against safety violations and not fixing responsibility on the employer are some important factors contributing to the accidents,” IndustriALL reported on July 7. As per estimates, as many as 48,000 people die at the workplace in India each year.
Union leaders, workers and activists have argued that the government should form an “expert commission to analyze the industrial accidents,” also “involving unions in the decision making process” both at the national level and in the factories to avoid such mishaps in the future.