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    OpinionsAnatomy of the building fire tragedy in Kuwait

    Anatomy of the building fire tragedy in Kuwait


    Need to ensure safety of Indian migrant workers

    By P. Sreekumaran

    THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The massive blaze in Kuwait which claimed the lives of 50 people, including 46 Indians, underlines the paramount need to ensure better living and working conditions for them in Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries.


    Reports have it that many migrant workers in these countries, exposed to relentless heat and humidity, live in sub-standard conditions. The so-called labour camps lack basic systems such as fire alarm or water sprinklers. The main culprit is lack of compliance with standard norms. In the Kuwait tragedy, for instance, the victims were aware of the fire only when others raised an alarm or when they inhaled the smoke. Safety measures in these labour camps, called bachelor houses which accommodate single men, leave much to be desired.


    The migrant workers are at the receiving end as they do not have any bargaining powers to demand better facilities. Such fire accidents are not a rare occurrence. In many cases, the cases go unreported unless there are casualties or serious injuries. What is shocking is the fact that blue-collar workers who have to work in hazardous conditions do not enjoy the benefit of insurance. In most cases, there are no mandatory centralised insurance provisions.


    One of the main reasons why such fire tragedies continue to occur is the existence of the contract labour system, known as kafala. Labour laws are anything but friendly to the workers. In many cases these laws support employers and labour contractors, which exacerbate the plight of the migrant workers. The safety of workers is not the top priority of several employers as the former can be easily replaced. True, the choice of residence for Keralites has shifted away from the GCC countries. And according to the Kerala Migration survey, West Asia still remains the main refuge for the people from Kerala. The survey has it that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) accounts for the highest number of emigrants with 38.6 per cent while Kuwait accounts for only 5.8 per cent of the Kerala emigrants.


    It is true that the dead and injured in these accidents are entitled to compensation. Each victim can receive upto Rs 50 lakh by way of compensation. But it is a time-consuming process, and takes years for the formalities to be completed.


    Reports also highlight the problems caused by weak enforcement mechanisms. Indian companies are by and large known to ensure decent standard of living for their workers. The reason is that these companies are under the scanner of the Indian embassy.


    It is reassuring to note that the Kuwait Government has announced a compensation of $15,000(roughly 12.5 lakh) to each family of the victims who were killed. As for the Union Government, it has sanctioned Rs two lakh each to the families of Indian nationals. The Kerala Government has also promised to give Rs five lakh financial assistance to the families of victims. Gulf-based businessmen have also pitched in with a sum of Rs 11 lakh.


    Kerala Government has urged the Union Government to take up the matter with the Kuwaiti Government on an urgent basis and see that adequate compensation is paid to the victims by the agencies responsible for the tragedy, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said speaking after inaugurating the fourth session of the Lok Kerala Sabha in the Assembly.


    The LDF Government and the Congress-led United Democratic Front(UDF) have criticised the Union Government for denying political clearance to Kerala Minister Veena George to visit Kuwait in the wake of the tragedy. The Health Minister, Pinarayi said, would have been able to understand the problems faced by the injured and interact with the Malayali diaspora in Kuwait. Leader of the Opposition V D Satheesan, who also strongly criticised the denial of clearance, said that coordination would have been better if the Minister was allowed to visit Kuwait.


    Expectedly, BJP state president K. Surendran and V. Muralidharan, former minister of state for external affairs, defended the denial of clearance. There was no need for the Kerala Minister to go to Kuwait as the Ministry of External Affairs had successfully completed all the procedures connected with the repatriation of bodies swiftly.

    The Northlines is an independent source on the Web for news, facts and figures relating to Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh and its neighbourhood.

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