Video Editor: Harpal Rawat
Camerapersons: Shiv Kumar Maurya, Ribhu Chatterjee
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The piercing sound of the power press, a haunting memory of his supervisor pushing him to work more, and the excruciating pain – it all comes rushing back to Ranjan every time he looks at his right hand, which now has only one finger.
The memories of Ranjan’s accident in his factory are clear as day. He says, “I had washed my hands and was leaving for home that day. But the supervisor told me that there was urgent work… I don’t know what I was thinking. I sat on the machine and worked on 100 pieces. Then the power press cut my hand.”
Ranjan lost four of his fingers on that fateful day in 2018.
Originally from Bihar, Ranjan had come to Faridabad tied to the hope of creating a brighter life for himself and his family. The machine not only cut his fingers but also cut short his dreams of a better life in the city.
The family now stays in a small two-room house, tucked into the heart of the industrial area, where the sound of the machines rarely stops.
Even today, he works at the same company. But he struggles to work on the machine when both hands are needed; “I have only one hand. Now how do I work with that?” The pain forces him to skip work and he has to give up on the day's wages from his already meagre pay.
Click here for the sound of the machine:
What Makes The Power Press So Dangerous?
The incessant thumping sound that echoes through the streets of Faridabad Industrial Area is caused by the power press. The load on the machine ranges from 5 tonne to 200 tonne. Hence, even a tiny mistake by a worker or a glitch in the machine can cost workers their fingers.
According to a conducted by Safe In India Foundation, among 2500 injured workers in Gurugram, Faridabad, and a few other auto-hubs, most of the injured workers lost a body part.
On an average, the injured workers lose 2.04 fingers on the machine.
Amitesh Kumar Singh, Centre Coordinator, Safe in India Foundation, an organisation that works with the injured workers and helps them receive compensation, said, “Accidents like these mostly take place when the machines are not properly maintained. Some have broken keys, some have broken bolts, some do not have sensors or if they have sensors, they are being bypassed so that the machine works faster.”
There is immense pressure on workers. A worker might have a capacity of 50 pieces in an hour, but they are told to make 70-80 pieces. Because of these factors, the number of accidents keep increasing.Amitesh Kumar Singh, Centre Coordinator, Safe in India Foundation
The workers concentrate on churning out more and more small, obscure steel objects. The same steel objects are supplied to motor companies such as Hero, Honda, Maruti-Suzuki among others. Most of the workers who work in such factories are migrant workers.
Robbed of Their Livelihood
Sagar and Arti, a couple in their 20s, got injured by the power press only a year apart. Their lives came crashing down, with the one being injured after the other. Arti was the first to get injured. She fainted when the incident took place. When Sagar got injured a year later, he fell and his eardrum got ruptured.
With only one fully-functional hand each, the two struggle to make ends meet.
Who will give us work? We can barely work with one hand. Nobody wants to hire us and pay us for no reason.Arti Sharma
The workers are easily replaceable and undervalued by their employers. This is reflected in Sagar’s recollection of the year of the injury; “I went back to work after I recovered from my injury. They made excuses and fired me. With just one hand, we can barely work inside the house and outside.”
When Sagar was injured, Arti had to manage the household. After hunting for a job for months, she got a job that paid her Rs 4,000. The couple has a debt of over Rs 60,000 as they had to survive on loans when they were injured.
Similarly, Ranjan says that his financial condition has forced him to pull his children out of school. They stay at home and their mother helps them with their studies. The pandemic only aggravated their troubles as they did not have mobile phones for online classes.
Compensation: A Pipe Dream?
The Employee’s Compensation Act of 1923 prescribed the degree of the injuries based on the number of fingers or body parts injured or lost. The workers are expected to receive compensation based on the severity and the type of injury.
Further, the Employees’ State Insurance Corporation Act (ESI Act) of 1948, makes social security provisions for these workers. Workers are supposed to have an e-Pehchaan card in order to avail the benefits of the Act.
Ranjan, who was injured on his first day in the factory, did not receive his E-Pehchaan card before the injury. In fact, he received the card from his employers only after the injury.
According to the study by the Safe In India Foundation, 70 percent of them received their card only after their injury instead of the day that they joined, as they should have.
This is the reason that many of their claims get rejected and they are unable to get even a single rupee despite paying their contribution for the insurance.
Under the section on permanent disabilities, the ESI says on its website; “The benefit is paid at the rate of 90% of wage in the form of monthly payment depending upon the extent of loss of earning capacity as certified by a Medical Board.”
In the last few years, auto-brands such as Hero, Maruti, and Tata Motors have engaged with their workers and attempted to provide safety training.
Yet, when The Quint visited some of these factories in Faridabad, workers did not have any safety gears. Most of them worked with their bare hands and a few wore gloves. However, the gloves do not help them escape such injuries.
Many hands on the machines have missing fingers. Sagar, who has been in the industry for over five years now, has seen 300-400 such injuries.
When asked how often he wittnesses an injury, Sagar says, “Sometimes it is in less than a month. Every few days, someone or the other is injured by the machine.”
His own trauma comes rushing back every time he sees the machine severe a workers' hands. But without support from his supervisors, the government, and the auto brands, he has little power to change anything.
Visualisation inputs: Meghnad Bose