Workers of Cen Vista complain of living in tiny tents, cramped tin sheds, flooding with rainwater, unpaid for months, and no personal care.
On this backdrop, the Central Vista project intends to redevelop a stretch at the heart of Lutyens Delhi, built in the 1930s. Of the Rs 20,000-crore sanctioned for the project, Rs 971 crore will be spent on a new Parliament building, and Rs 13,450 crore on new residences for the prime minister and the vice president.
While COVID-19 took a terrible turn in January 2021 especially, the Modi government was determined to go ahead with its vanity project of building the Central Vista, which was certainly not a necessity especially since India was already receiving international help and funds for COVID and the Vista project cost was a whooping ₹20,000 crore (US$2.8 billion)
India’s medical infrastructure frighteningly crashed when the coronavirus surge moved over India devastating the nation with overworked and overflowing hospitals running out of oxygen, and crematoriums and cremation grounds running out of space with thousands dying daily with tragic wails and cries renting the air. India’s capital was under a strict lockdown with the majority of economic activities stopped.
India was undergoing the greatest national tragedy far too heartbreaking and in the midst of this, the Narendra Modi government was determined to go ahead with the Central Vista building, where workers were huddled in tin sheds or tiny tents, in very tough conditions whereupon rain would flood their dwellings and in misery could not sleep at nights.
Three to four were huddled in a container, with no space that they literally had to sleep on the same mattresses while throughout the night, drones of mosquitoes hovered over them making sleep difficult. The tin sheds turned terribly hot and some bought their own coolers with their own money.
“We all slept on the same bed and just managed somehow,” said the worker, who spoke to Scroll.in on the phone. He said he had been hired by Garg Builders in March. He had requested the supervisor to arrange for separate mattresses for the workers in the container that was ridden with mosquitoes, but the request was ignored.
No one asked about their health, or whether they had eaten or were comfortable or not. If they contracted fever, they were left to fend for themselves with no help from the government, and when some did contract COVID, they were left on their own to battle through the illness and felt miserable and abandoned.
According to Scroll.in, one of the workers who caught COVID said, “The company did not help,” referring to Garg Builders, one of the subcontractors executing the Central Vista avenue redevelopment work that had been awarded to Shapoorji Pallonji and Company Private Limited, one of India’s largest construction firms. The worker said he had been working at Garg Builders for 30 years.
“They kept saying they would give me money in my account after I told them I had COVID, but they just made me a fool,” he said. “No one gave us medicines or salary.”
Scroll.in contacted Garg Builders whose manager revealed that salaries had not been paid since March, because the office had been shut during the lockdown, making it difficult to hand out cash and cheques.
While the Modi government had claimed that it was maintaining Covid-19 protocol on the site, which included masking up, sanitization, and thermal screening, and that it had arranged for testing, medical aid, and isolation, in the event someone fell ill, claiming that contractors had provided health insurance to their workers.
But the workers allege that apart from wearing masks, there were no other precautions enforced and neither he nor the other workers had been insured by the company.
It is tragic that the workers are being neglected during this project at one of India’s toughest times. Since the Modi government had decided to build the Central Vista during the pandemic, they have a higher responsibility to take better care of the workers, to make sure that they are instantly tested if they have a fever and treated promptly with aid and help, not having to wait in queues, struggle for medicines and treatment. It is the government’s duty to ensure that their payments are not delayed, especially at times like this when the workers desperately need the money when they are falling ill. The government has to be extremely sensitive at such a time as this.