On Sunday two men, engaged by a contractor of the state’s power development department (PDD) as casual labourers, were working atop an electric pole in Srinagar when supply to the wires they were handing with naked hands was suddenly resumed. The two were severely electrocuted. One of them died, his body dangled from the transmission wire for more than an hour, and the other, so severely injured, may have to live the rest of his life as an invalid.
This is not the first such incident when men engaged on “need basis” by the government or an agency engaged for service maintenance work at a cheap price. During the last year alone four such workers were killed at least 11 others received electric shocks while on work. According to a body of “casual labourers” the PDD alone engages more than 8000 of them. There is little or no data available about how many have been severely disabled or killed in the last decade or two. But stories of men getting electrocuted when the transmission wires or other equipment they were working on were suddenly energised with high voltage by some callous employee who held a permanent government job. This callousness has remained a permanent element of the functioning of PDD.
The regular casual labourers have no job security in the first place. And when they get injured the compensation is paltry, or when killed in similar circumstances a kin may get a government job. However, the kind and degree of compensation is the least of the issues here. These casually engaged men are put to undertake high risk maintenance jobs, but even if there are ‘appropriate rules’ on the books for their safety and welfare what we see is that a man working atop high electricity poles, dealing with high tension transmission wires are rarely wearing even basic safety gear like a helmet, shock-proof gloves or even a harness. Insurance is a far cry!
Perhaps the two-and-a-half decades of death, destruction, maiming and high levels of unemployment have generated such insensitivity and callousness among the government authorities in Kashmir that such accidents, caused by callous ignorance of some of those who enjoy all the security a government job provides, have stopped to matter! This casual and callous situation will not change unless the entire chain of command responsible for the deaths and maiming is punished. Nothing, not even a government job or a top place in the hierarchy of a government department should mean impunity for causing death. That is what the family of the man whose body dangled from the top an electric pole in Budshah Chowk on Sunday deserves, because it is no different from a murder.