Mumbai: Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray instructed the public to avoid unnecessary travel and asked private offices to remain closed until March 31, at a press conference on Friday.
Moreover, government offices were instructed to maintain only 25 per cent attendance, in an effort to contain the spread of coronavirus. However, these norms clearly do not seem to apply to the labourers at the Metro construction sites and other infrastructure projects.
At a time when citizens are being exhorted to maintain social distancing, infrastructure development work in the city is in full swing. Labourers hired by contractors who have undertaken the civil work are on the job round the clock.
The Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited (MMRCL) undertaking the underground Metro Line-3 (Colaba-Bandra--SEEPZ) has only advised contractors to follow the government advisory which includes providing sanitisers and masks. The authority refrained from commenting further.
There are thousands of workers toiling daily to make the various metro lines a reality and pandemic or not, they continue to report to their duty as usual. This is purely for lack of enforcement of workforce restriction rules on these sites.
The Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA), which is responsible for the construction of the 14 metro lines, has also expressed its inability to act in the matter, saying the labourers are working for private contractors so it cannot impose attendance restrictions.
Responding to a query on the precautionary measures it has put in place at metro construction sites amid the coronavirus outbreak, it said, "Contractors are advised to provide masks to the workers."
Anil Galgali, a Mumbai activist, told The Free Press Journal, "The infrastructure development work doesn't fall under essential work. Therefore, all development construction work should be stalled till March 31.
Besides, most labourers come from other cities and states, and it is the responsibility of the government to ensure their safety. Just as the CM has appealed to private companies not to deduct employee salaries, hired contractors too should be asked to pay to the labourers."
" Workers' lives are equally important and asking them to report for duty at this critical time is nothing but endangering their lives," he asserted.
Bombay High Court Advocate Godfrey Pimenta explained, "Essential Commodity Act means maintaining services, for instance providing electricity, water supply etc.
If at all workers of these departments plan a strike, then the government can invoke the Essential Service Act and pass an ordinance preventing them from doing so.
But since the metro and other infrastructure development works are in the construction stage, these do not come under the Essential Service Act.
Therefore, the concerned authority should stall all civil work on ongoing projects."