Around 550 migrant labourers working on a construction site inside IIT-Madras campus, Chennai, have allegedly not been paid wages since March despite a directive from the government of India to not withhold wages for workers in the middle of a pandemic. The institute, however, has denied the allegations stating that the Central Public Works Department (CPWD), which is in charge of the construction project, has said that the wages have been paid to the workers.
The workers from many states, including West Bengal and Jharkhand, are involved in the construction of a hostel building inside the IIT-Madras campus, according to Chintabar, a students' collective of the institution. The workers, who are reportedly employed by the Hyderabad-based DEC Infrastructures and Projects Private Limited, have been engaged in the construction of the Mandakini Boys Hostel inside the campus for the last eight months. â€śWe have been able to ascertain that the total amount of pending wages comes to more than â‚ą1.7 crore. The workers have neither been paid for the labour they provided for two weeks prior to the lockdown, nor for the lockdown period as stipulated by the Government of India,â€ť Chintabar said.
Shivraj* is from West Bengal and has been with the Hyderabad-based contractor for a long time. Speaking to TNM, he confirmed that he is yet to receive his wages since March and is waiting to go home to meet his family. When asked how he and his colleagues were managing to stay afloat without regular wages, he said that the contractor has been paying them Rs 400 a week which will be deducted later from their wages. Shivraj and his co-workers are buying food supplies with this money.
Chintabar has also accused IIT-Madras of being complicit in causing the workers to suffer. â€śThe institution has been trying to blame the CPWD for this violation. However, the standard contract entered with such contractors has a clause for the institute to pay wages due to the workers from the security deposit paid by the contractor while signing the agreement. Thus IIT-Madras has a way to pay them but is not doing it,â€ť a representative from Chintabar told TNM. The students' collective further accused the contractor of hoarding the dry rations given to the labourers by the state government, and using it as a ransom to force the workers to resume construction. â€śAfter a long fight of over 10 days, the workers got their rations,â€ť the Chintabar representative said, adding that when they approached the instituteâ€™s Director with the issue, he'd promised to settle the wages by May 12.
When TNM approached IIT-Madras for a comment on the matter, the official spokesperson stated that the CPWD, which is in charge of the hostel construction, reportedly paid all wage dues to the workers.
â€śThe hostel construction is being handled by CPWD. They are responsible for the disbursement of funds, which they receive directly from the funding agency for the project. We have been informed by them that the workers have been paid,â€ť the spokesperson said.
(*Name changed to protect identity)
(With inputs from Haripriya Suresh)