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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 14, New Delhi, March 20, 2021

A Roadside Mishap or A Systemic Liquidation ? A Fact-Finding Report on the January 2021 Deaths of Migrants in Surat District of Gujarat

Friday 19 March 2021


by Fact Finding Committee [1]

The article is based on a Fact-Finding Report [2] of an accident killing 15 migrant workers near Surat. The Surat city is projected as an illuminating illustration of the ‘Development Paradigm’ being followed by Gujarat state. The article delineates how this model has been grossly treating and inhumanly exploiting the workers. They are not only deprived of work-related legally enshrined rights and benefits but they have to live and work in inhuman and oppressive conditions. They are denied facility of shelter and hence, they have to live on footpaths, in open plots and under fly-overs where not only basic amenities are totally absent, but they are prone to harassment from authorities and lumpen elements as well as deadly accidents. The report also has given set of practical suggestions to ameliorate living conditions of workers. The article argues that the mishap is not due to rash driving but it is an episode signifying the liquidation of marginalized people by the present system.

A horrific accident took place at Palod village, located at the distance of around 50 km from Surat city, when at midnight of 18th January 2021, a giant dumper truck, running at high speed, crushed 20 migrant labourers, who were sleeping on road-side, as the driver lost control of the vehicle. Out of them, 15 were dead and remaining 5 were seriously injured, so were driver and cleaner as dumper crashed into the roadside shops (FIR, Kosamba Police Station, Gujarat Samachar, 20.02.2021). Out of those who lost lives, 8 were women, 6 men and one girl child. All the victims were tribals and most of these migrant workers were from Banswara district of Rajasthan whereas few were from Ratlam district of Madhya Pradesh. All were young in the age-group of 16-30, except a 40 years old woman. All those succumbed to death or injured in fatal accident were family members and had migrated to Surat very recently. They were working as casual labourers on a nearby construction site. The police on their part registered FIR against driver and owner of dumper and have started procedure against them. The state government of Rajasthan and Gujarat as well as the Central government have announced Rs. 2 lakhs of accident compensation to the families of deceased. According to authentic reporting from an NGO ‘Ajeevika Bureau’ only Rajasthan government has fulfilled the promise.

As had happened in the past in several such cases in which the victims were poor and of deprived section, this horrific and tragic incidence will soon be forgotten until one more such accident or event would take place. This was not an accident that took place due to careless driving of a tired driver. In order to decipher deeper implications and understanding of the accident, a ‘Fact Finding Team’ (FFT) was formed consisting of activists from action groups and NGOs, retired civil servants, and academia. The FFT met district based functionaries of various departments, collected authentic data, visited accident site and prepared a report, this write-up is based on it.

In order to understand the implication of this tragic event it has to be inferred and understood by locating it in broad social and economic backdrop. For the present write-up Surat city/district’s development paradigm is being focused as it represents broader systemic scheme.

Surat and the condition of Labour

Surat which is ranked 12th population wise with around 65 to 70 lakh of populace, is considered as economic capital of Gujarat primarily because of preponderance of industrial and commercial activities. Surat is famous for its four industrial activities, namely, weaving, dying-printing, diamond-polishing and embroidery, which are carried out it small and medium scale units. In the vicinity of Surat city, in Hazira, giant sized units of Reliance, ESSAR, L&T, Shell, ONGC, IOC and KRIBHCO, both from private and public sectors are situated. Likewise thousands of small and medium scale units of city’s four industries the above large units employ workers on contract and casual basis. So entire industrial production activities come under aegis of unorganized sector. Apart from these industrial activities city’s unorganized sector also includes vast sector of construction activities and other fringe sector [3] activities such as; working in small shops, hotels-restaurants, garages — workshops, self-employed activities and casual/non-regular employment as security guard, lift-operators, housemaids, house based workers, auto-rickshaw and other vehicles drivers, venders and rag-pickers. City is known as silk and diamond city as more than 60 per cent of artificial silk is produced in city and 90 per cent of world’s diamonds are polished in Surat. It is impossible to get exact number of livelihood earners of entire unorganized sector, for mainly two reasons. One, Industrial owners never keep registers of their workers in order to escape from the implementation of the labour laws. And, secondly, more than 80 per cent of these unorganized sector earners are migrants, majority from other states. So, their names are not enumerated as voters or citizens in any of the local authorities’ office. Among construction workers also most of the labourers are tribals from eastern tribal belt of Gujarat, north Maharashtra, western Madhya Pradesh and Southern Rajasthan. The following table provides rough estimate of workers earning livelihood from various activities.

Table 1: Estimated No. of workers in different major economic activities of Surat’s Unorganised Sector
1. Weaving Industry 7 to 8 lakhs
2. Dying — Printing Industry 3 to 4 lakhs
3. Diamond Industry 3 to 4 lakhs
4. Embroidery Industry 3 to 4 lakhs
5. Construction Activity 2 lakhs
6. Other unorganized sector activities 2 lakhs
Total 24 lakhs (approx. estimate)
Source: Based on series of Studies; Desai, Kiran, 2014 & 2018. 

Surat’s unorganized sector is distinctly distinguished by labour market segmentation, in which workers in each activity are characterised by demographic specificities. For instance, in weaving sectors large majority of workers are migrants from Odisha, as well as another large section of Maharashtra. Similarly, in dying-printing industry migrants from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar are in sizeable number, and among them proportion of Muslims is significant. Diamond industry is considered as citadel of migrants belonging to Patidar caste from Saurashtra region. Migrants from Uttar Pradesh are in majority in embroidery industry (For detailed study of industrial workers of Surat see Desai, K., 2018). In construction business, most of the workers employing physical labour or unskilled labour are tribal migrants as mentioned earlier. Similarly, plumbing work is carried out mainly by Muslim workers from West Bengal. In colouring work, migrants from Uttar Pradesh are in big number and amongst them Muslims are in sizeable number. Migrant workers from Jharkhand are mainly found in public sector construction — works such as roads, flyovers and other infra-structural works. Few years back a portion of under-construction flyover was collapsed, killing 10migrant workers from Jharkhand (Times of India, 15 June, 2014; Desai, 2018). At that time also instantaneous hue and cry was very soon subsided and even formal complaints against contractors was lodged after three months.

So, in nutshell, Surat’s labour market of unorganized sector is segmented on the line of demographic peculiarities of migrant workers. As is inferred, this is a one sort of coping mechanism or security device being adopted and devised by workers in highly insecure and vulnerable labour market situation because of lack of state support, absence of organizational activities and violation of labour legislation (Desai, K., 2018).

Lack of Shelter facility for migrant workers 

In Surat city and its surrounding areas hundreds of thousands of migrant workers are toiling for eking out their livelihood. Providing them places of shelter and other basic facilities is of paramount significance. And as in the matter of work related legal rights, neither state nor capital or owners care much about this set of amenities for migrant work-force. Except workers of diamond industry most of the migrant workers of remaining three industries as well as fringe sector activities are living in city’s slums. As per Surat Municipal Corporation (SMC)’s official website city has 334 slums localities. The construction workers, most of whom are seasonal or circulating migrants have been living in the worst of the condition. As per a recent study, 60 per cent of construction workers live in open (Hirway, 2018).

Most of the tribal construction workers migrate along with wives and children, and are staying in open plots, foot-paths or under flyovers, nearby to their construction sites. Apart from lack of primary facilities of water, electricity in such places, they are prone to mishaps such as Palod-Kim. Moreover, the police and the SMC have been treating them roughly, considering them as nuisance, ugly spots on the beauty of the city, and hence, continuously driving them away from even such spots. They live wandering life, keep on shifting from one place to another. Apart from authorities the lumpen elements too harass them. Large majority of them work as casual labourers, getting work by gathering every morning at different spots, called ‘nakas’ or “major bajaar” (labour markets). Surat has such 23 ‘nakas’, as indicated in Table — 2.

Table 2 : List of Nakas in Surat City
Sr.No. Name of the Nakas Sr.No. Name of the Nakas
1. Archana Chokdi (Nana Varachha) 13. Yogi Chowk (Nana Varachha)
2. Nilgiri Circle (Limbayat) 14. Kadodara Char Rasta
3. Ramnagar (Palanpur Jakatnaka) 15. Simada Naka
4. Parvat Patiya 16. Unn Patiya Naka
5. Udhana Three Roads 17. Palivan (Sachin)
6. Kapodara Char Rasta 18. Chikuwadi (Pandesara)
7. Amroli Char Rasta (Tapi Bridge point)  19. Ganesh Nagar (Bamroli)
8. Lalita Chokadi (Katargam) 20. Navsari Bazar
9. Bhatar Char Rasta 21. Ruvala Tekra (Bhagal)
10. Ichchhanath (SVNIT College), Piplod 22. Kim Chokadi (Kim)
11. Bal-Ashram (Katargam) 23. Sachin GIDC Naka (Gate No.1)
12. Chowk Bazar Char Rasta

In Gujarat due to persistent efforts from labour organizations such as ‘Bandhkam Mazdoor Sangathan’, ‘Prayas’, Ajeevika the government has made provision of night-shelter, called ‘ren-basera’ from the fund raised by collecting special cess from builders. Surat has such 27 ‘ren-baseras’ (Table — 3). But out of them only one, which is managed by an NGO, ‘Prayas’ is functioning properly. The rest are dysfunctionallikewise most of the government run institutions.

Table 3: List of presently working Ren-basera/ night-Shelters run by Surat Municipal Corporation
Zones Sr. No. Place of the Ren-basera
South-West Zone 1. Bhatar Char Rasta, Udhna-Magdalla Road.
2. Vegetable Market, Althan, Bhatar Road.
3. Under Athwa Bridge, Athwagate.
4. Behind Lakeview Garden, Piplod.
Central 5. Kanskiwad.
6. Opp. Millennium Market, Kamela Darwaja.
7. Fish Market, Vasfoda, Near Waghariwad.
8. Behind Rang Upavan, Chowk.
9. Delhi Gate, Near IOC Petrol Pump.
10. Opp. Suraj Cinema, Ring Road.
West Zone 11. Bapunagar Slum, Near Makaipool, Adajan.
12. Near Bhathena Pumping Station, Opp. Umiya Mata Temple, Bhathena. 
13. Nilgiri Circle, Limbayat.
14. L. D. Hospital, Near Sahara Darwaja.
North Zone 15. Near Ankur Vidhyalay, Ambatalavdi, Katarmgam.
16. Behind Veer Savarkar garden, Katargam.
17. Patel Wadi, Opp. Ward Office, Lal Darwaja.
East Zone 18. Umarwada, Beside Bombay Market.
19. Beside SMIMER Medical College, Umarwada, Surat.
20. Santosh Nagar BRTS, Beside Puna Khadi, Varachha.
21. Gitanjali, Beside Varachha Police Station, Varachha Road.
22. Bombay Colony, Kapodara, Varachha Road.
East Zone 23. Kharvar Nagar, Udhana.
24. Shastri Nagar, Khatodara.
25. Sanjay Nagar, Udhana Railway Station Road, Udhana.
26. Panchsheel Nagar, Bamroli Road.
27. Bhedwad, Udhana-Bhestan Main Road.

In nutshell, Surat city is often projected as a sparkling specimen of Gujarat’s development paradigm. The rulers have ambitious plan to develop city as ‘Smart City’ and ‘Resilient City’. But this prototype of development which is reflected in numerous flyovers, wide shining roads, high-rise buildings, malls and posh housing societies, is achieved through inhuman exploitation and oppression of migrant construction workers. But the owners as well as state shamelessly violate or allow to violate set of legislations that supposed to secure and procure their rights pertains to work. Similarly, these masses are left to fend for themselves regarding basic provision of shelter. These workers who are the backbone of the present ‘development’ paradigm become victims to the horrifying accidents such as Surat due to these shameless, criminal and inhuman attitude of capital and state. The driver is not the real culprit for the accident but the system that construct epitome of ‘development’ on inhuman exploitation of labour. And this is not about unique case of Surat. But the sad scenario can be seen in other urban centres also. When such tragic mishap takes place concerning these deprived sections, the mainstream social order takes cursory note and moves on without taking remedial measures. Soon after the tragic accident of Surat, in a weeks’ time another such accident took place in Palanpur town of North Gujarat killing four labourers, (Indian Express, 26.01.2021).

Legal and Administrative Provisions

Housing and other Construction Act — 1996:

Section — 34 of Housing and other construction act — 1996 (HoCA) has made provision that the employer should provide temporary shelter at the construction site or nearby it free of cost, with facilities of cooking, bathing and toilet. As mentioned earlier, the Construction Workers Welfare Board has total corpus of rupees 3100 crores collected from owners as CESS. Section 22 of the above law stipulates that the beneficiary workers can get loan and advance from that fund under certain terms and conditions. Moreover, other welfare measures and facilities can be provided from the same.

But on the contrary, crores of rupees from this pool was inappropriately used in 2016-17 for constructing labour colony of big companies and not much has been spent so far for ordinary labourers standing at ‘majoor bazars’. The point is these wealthy companies should provide residential facilities to their workers. So, the welfare board, in fact, has illegitimately extended subsidies to these giant companies, denoting nexus between state and giant companies.

Contract Labour Act — 1970:

Under the Contract Labour Act—1970 and Gujarat Rules—1972 of it, the contract workers should be provided the following set of facilities.

Rule — 41: At a place where contract labourers are employed and they have to make night stay at the site and the duration of the work is of three months then woman and man workers should be provided separate rest-rooms with facility of clean water.
Rule — 51 to 56: Facilities of urinal and toilet are stipulated. These facilities should be separately provided for woman and man workers and as per total number of workers.
Rule — 57: It stipulates separate place for woman and man workers to wash their clothes.

Decree of Supreme Court:

The supreme court has ordered on a plea that it is mandatory to have one night-shelter (ren-basera) per 1,00,000 of population, with facility of 100 individuals to stay. In its decree of 20.10.2010 the highest court has further ordered that this arrangement should be made by 31 March, 2011. After receiving affidavits from state governments the Supreme Court has also decreed that such ren-basera has to be constructed in the urban centres with population of more than 5 lakhs by 31.10.2011.

National Urban Livelihood Mission (NULM):

(1) One purpose of NULM is to provide ren-basera or Shelter-home with all basic facilities, for all the homeless people. These shelters for homeless should have facilities and provision for social security, cleanliness, portable water, ration shop etc.

(2) The expenditure for such shelter will be shared by central and state government on 75: 25 basis.

(3) The land for such shelter has to be provided by the state government on long term lease.

(4) Such shelter-homes should have minimum space of 50 sq.ft. per individual.

(5) It should provide free food to labourers.

Home for Workers: Provisions and Reality

(1) As per section—34 of Housing and other Construction Act-1996, the employers are not providing facility of shelter. The law further instructs that government has to file case against such employers. But the fact is that neither such cases are filed properly nor such filed cases are resolved in time, and even if it is resolved the amount of penalty is ridiculously small. In case of Surat district, number of such cases filed against employees between 2007 to 2019 is merely 118, out of which only 50 were resolved and the employers were fined total amount of Rs.22,050/-. Curiously, no case was filed during 2010 to 2018. (See table - 4)

Table 4: No. of cases in Surat district against owners who have not provided shelter to their workers
Year No. of cases Cases solved Fined Amount
(in Rs.)
Case wise average fined amount
2007 44 20 6000 300
2008 54 22 10250 466
2009 04 04 1800 450
2019 16 04 4000 1000
Total 118 50 22050 441
Source: Joint Director, Industrial Safety and Health, Surat Pradesh, Surat.

(2) As per the dictate of the highest court in cities/towns there must be one ren-basera accommodating 100 persons per population of 1 lakh. As per census of 2011, the total urban population of Gujarat was 2.57 crores. At that time, the proportion of urban population was 42.6 per cent. And suppose this has remained constant, then in 2020 the urban population of state can be estimated as 2.76 crore. And hence, as per norm set by SC, Gujarat should have 276 shelter-homes. But according to an affidavit of Gujarat State Government to the Supreme Court, dated 13.01.2012, total number of ren-baseras covering all the large cities of state was 101, and the number has remained the same in 2021. Out of 101, 45 are in Ahmedabad, 28 in Surat, 14 in Vadodara, 09 in Rajkot and 05 ren-baseras in Bhavnagar. Out of 45 ren-baseras of Ahmedabad, 30 are converted into shelter-homes. The rest are inclosed / unused status. These ren-baseras have capacity of 1721 workers to stay. The 159 Nagar Palikas of Gujarat State has not a single such shelter.

(3) As per authentic estimation of 2020, if the population of Surat and Ahmedabad are 71 lakh and 81 lakh respectively than these cities must have more number of shelter-homes as per the SC order.

(4) On 22.03.2018 under the Deendayal Antyodaya Scheme — NULM, a state level shelter monitoring committee was formed under the chairpersonship of retired senior officer Shri P. K. Taneja. This committee had taken several decisions in its various meetings: (a) To establish labour colonies for homeless workers; (b) Workers should be provided residence under Prime Minister Housing Scheme; (c) In Surat, shelter-homes should be built under 15 flyovers. Sadly none of the above decisions or recommendations have been implemented.

(5) During last 25 years Bandhkaam Mazdoor Sangathan, Majoor Adikar Manch, Prayas and other organizations have made numerous representations to various agencies of government to provide residential facility to construction workers. But they have not been heeded.

Recommendations of Fact Finding Committee:

The Fact Finding Committee has made the following recommendations in the light of above facts.

(1) An immediate survey should be conducted of local people and migrant workers also are living or sleeping on foot-paths and in open plots. This survey should be accomplished by March — 2021 end to determine exact figure of such people. When P. K. Taneja committee carried out such survey a large number of homeless people were not included due to lack of proper details. So this survey should be conducted again by taking assistance of organizations that have been actively working among these deprived sections

(2) Until residences and shelter-homes such as ren-basera with all the basic facilities are constructed the homeless people should be accommodated temporarily in nearby government schools or community halls to avert risk against their lives.

(3) The State government should made minimum budgetary provision of Rs.200 crore for the construction of ren-baseras, which should be distributed amongst nagar palikas and mahanagar palikas as grants. It should be planned in a way that construction of ren-basera is accomplished by March - 2022. The amount of 3100 crore rupees being deposited with Construction Labour Welfare Board can be utilized for the purpose. Even as such the amount is not huge for allocation in budget. Gujarat is known for its infrastructural development in which contribution of workers is crucial. So this much expenditure for their betterment of life is State’s responsibility. Gujarat Urban Livelihood Mission should take up this task on priority and urgent basis.

(4) Those owners/contractors who are not providing facility of shelter on temporary basis as per section — 34; of housing and other construction act-1996 should be penalized with fine of 10000 rupees per one worker.

(5) The State government should take policy decision that local town/city authorities allocate land for shelter-homes nearby to labour-market / major bazaar.

(6) In Surat the houses which are built under the Prime-Minister housing scheme and are remaining vacant should be allocated to migrant workers on temporary basis.

(7) In vacant and fellow land-plots of Surat Municipal Corporation labour parks consisting of shelters with basic facilities for migrant workers should be built.

(8) For the migrant workers who were victims of horrific accident, Gujarat government, Rajasthan government and Central government, each has announced compensation of 2 lakhs rupees per worker. These compensations should be handed over to their families without bureaucratic delay and the onus should be of state machinery.

The horrifying accident at Surat is a consequence of an exploitative and oppressive system which is helmed and steered by few vested interest groups in collusion with the State and at the expense of large humanity of marginalized sections of people. However, the FFC is hopeful that if the tiny space that might be existing within that exploitative system because of constitutional provisions and democratic structure (howsoever feeble it has become), is utilized through collective pressure the lives of exploited and marginalized people can be made less arduous.


Desai, Kiran. 2014. Searching for Space in Globalisation Era: Fringe Sector Livelihood Earners in Urban Economy - The Case of Surat City of Gujarat. Surat: Centre for Social Studies. (An Unpublished Report submitted to ICSSR, New Delhi).

Desai, Kiran. 2018. Labour in Small and Medium Scale Industrial Units in Unorganized Sector of Surat: Struggling to Keep Afloat. Surat: Centre for Social Studies. (An Unpublished Report submitted to ICSSR, New Delhi).

Hirway, Indira. 2018. They Leave Their Homes to Build Ours: Migration in Building and Construction Industry in Surat. Ahmedabad: Prayas.

[1The Fact Finding Team was composed of: Kiran Desai (faculty, Centre for Social Studies, Surat), Hemant Shah (Economist, Ahmedabad), Vipul Pandya (General Secretary, Bandhakam Mazdoor Sangathan, Ahmedabad), Sanjay Patel (Ajeevika Bureau, Surat), Shantilal Meena (Majoor Adikaar Manch, Surat), Uttam Parmar (Kim Education Society, Kim-Surat), Krishnakant Chauhan (PUCL, Surat), K M Patel (Retired Asst. Labour Commissioner, Govt. of Gujarat), Manubhai Priyadarshi (Retired Deputy Director, Industrial safety and Health Department, Govt. of Gujarat).

[2original report is in Gujarati, entitled, "A Dumper Accident at Kim of Surat District: 15 Workers Sleeping on Foot-path Killed - A Report of Fact-Finding Committee" (2021)

[3The term ‘Fringe Sector’ is coined for primarily non-industrial economic activities of unorganised sector. Though to segregate, industrial and non-industrial activities of unorganised sector is tricky (See Kiran Desai, 2014).

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