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Save electric line workers

Aheli Moitra

If you are sitting within the confines of an air-conditioned room, reading this newspaper—online or offline, imagine the life of the worker who is making this possible for you.

This worker, popularly known as the electric lineman, is out in the summer heat, winter chill and monsoon torrent in a gunjee, shorts and chappal climbing rusted electric poles to fix damaged electric cables. They have no equipment to help them climb or secure their life and limb when they are working on high electric poles. Even when the area’s electricity is cut off to facilitate their work, individual households remain insensitive enough and turn on their inverters and generators that often “bounce” the electricity back into these cables, jeopardizing the lives of these workers.

In this month alone, two electric line workers have died in Nagaland, as one fights for life. In the latest case, a young worker had climbed a pole to check a domestic low tension line when his head came into contact with an overhanging live 11Kv line. He died within four days of the jolt. In a previous incident, a worker was jolted off a pole while attending to a domestic low tension line; he plunged to the ground headlong suffering severe head trauma.

If electric shocks don’t kill them, lack of safety measures do.

Those workers who continue to work are all victims of minor shocks and burns that they are forced to accept as a normal part of their job. Most workers are able bodied young men from poor families that cannot afford to let go of such jobs that are designed to kill. Electric shocks of the magnitude these workers endure can cause extensive tissue and organ damage, respiratory paralysis, ventricular fibrillation and even cardiac arrest. Providing no precautionary measures to tackle these amounts to state-sponsored killing of electric line workers.

Developed countries pay hefty compensation and benefits for workers in such life-threatening fields of work. In Nagaland these workers remain ‘workcharge’ employees—though their work is, more or less, 24X7, they are not entitled to pension, leaves or allowances. Even those with years of work and burns to their credit do not earn more than Rs. 7,000 a month.

The All Nagaland Electricity Field Workers Association has been expressing dismay towards this situation for years now. The government has the basic responsibility to provide its grassroots electricity workers with safety belts, shock-proofing gloves, health insurance, free treatment when work related injury occurs, compensation for the family in case of death, salaries commensurate with hours and nature of work and vehicles for transportation. At least new electric poles have been installed for now but there is a long way to go to make the field safe for workers.

It is the state’s legal duty to protect its workers, and the citizens’ moral duty to ensure the state delivers. No worker should have to die for the comfort of others. If dignity is for all human beings, we must work hard to secure this for those with the least access to it, in this case the electric line worker.

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