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Indian Committee Finds Games Construction Workers Exploited

A committee appointed by the Delhi High Court has determined workers building facilities for this year's Commonwealth Games in India are being exploited by contractors apparently unaware of labor laws.

A preliminary report submitted to the Delhi High Court finds all allegations made in complaints about workers' conditions "are well founded."

Those charges include laborers working and living in highly dangerous and deplorable conditions; earning less than the stipulated minimum wage; with no access to basic sanitation and health facilities; and, lacking safety equipment.

The four-member court-appointed monitoring panel blames the exploitation directly on private contractors being unaware of any liability in violating labor laws.

One of the advocates for the Commonwealth Games' site workers, Tariq Adeeb of the Human Rights Law Network, tells VOA News that India's central government and Delhi authorities should ultimately be held responsible.

"If the contractors are not aware of the rules and regulations of the government, then it's the responsibility of the government. Why they have given such contracts to those people who are not aware of anything," asks Adeeb.

A top official of the Sports Authority of India, Hardip Singh Kingra, tells VOA it wants to "ensure all labor laws are followed." But he contends it is the Central Public Works Department which has the responsibility to implement them.

The chief engineer of the CPWD, V.K. Gupta, brushes off the committee's findings, calling violations "isolated cases" and contends that "by and large" the law is being followed. But he says, in reaction to the allegations, trade units "have been sensitized" to the need for observing workers' rights.

Despite some pessimism that the legal process will drag on until after the Games begin in October, attorney Tariq Adeeb expects quick results because of the Delhi court's attention to the alleged exploitation.

"Things will change definitely in a positive way because, on the next date of hearing, the court will direct the government to look after these workers because it is the responsibility of the government and the state," said Adeeb.

The next hearing is scheduled for April 7.

A report submitted to the court says there have been 43 deaths at project sites.

More than 400,000 people are believed to be working as daily wage contract workers on Games'-related construction projects, worth billions of dollars.

This is the first time India is to host the prestigious athletic event, which is expected to attract more than 8,000 participants and officials from most of the 54 countries of the British Commonwealth.