Just as I stepped into my car and switched on the AC, I noticed that it was displaying outside temperature to be 50 C!
If you uninitiated about the mysterious ways of the weathermen and are under the impression that the numbers in the range of 43 C mentioned in media lately are referring to the highest that mercury rose through the day, let me tell you that it is temperature IN SHADE and not of a surface directly exposed to Sunlight. So, if someone places a thermometer on a tar road, it is likely to exceed even 50 C.
As my journey took me past an ongoing road construction site, I was happy to note that it was devoid of any workers. As directed by the state, construction labour is now saved from toiling under the Sun when heat wave warning is issued.
While the empathetic-me was happy about this much-needed humane consideration, the citizen-me was struck by the realisation that, with rains barely two months away, I may end up suffering from a completely broken road if work is going to get stalled like this.
As I pondered over this moral dilemma, I realised that we are an under-construction nation that has no way to escape its weather, and yet we seem to have not really bothered to look at this issue carefully.
If we look at the calendar of construction activities in a hot city like Ahmedabad, we have three major forces at play, i.e. seasons, festivals and weddings.
If we roughly divide a year into four month seasons, both summer and monsoon have at least two months out of four where weather stalls construction.
Of the remaining eight months of good weather, we have Diwali and Holi to eat into at least six weeks of prime working time.
If that is not enough, there are weddings and other social engagements and also harvesting periods that rip out another four weeks from the calendar because our construction labour comes either from tribal areas of Gujarat or from distant parts of India where farming is seasonal and inadequate means for sustenance.
And last but not the least is the unhygienic conditions in which labour lives in labour colonies, as it adds some days of illness breaks to the working calendar.
So, effectively speaking, we have about six months of clear work period, but that too is broken into so many segments that there is little opportunity to build momentum.
Thus, we rarely have our projects getting over in time and city looks as if it is under a siege almost through the year. But, tolerant people that we are, we have accepted it to be our fate and are scrapping through.
Unfortunately for us, there is another development up ahead that may test our tolerance beyond its limits, and that is, India is on the move. The pace at which we are growing, the construction activity that we are seeing right now is just a humble beginning.
Our growing economy will demand that our infrastructure will need to grow at a pace that China is displaying at this point, and with our weather, our festivals and our social demands, there is no real way that we can rise to take up that challenge.
As we really don’t have too many options, we need to really get into micro-level planning to study the entire issue of construction labour and tweak not just the calendar but also the work culture.
The best way out is to convert the construction labour into a dignified professional force that works in shifts and gets weekly holidays. The pay scales need to change to wean them from farming and look at construction labour as an all season vocation. We also need to move them from temporary labour colonies that encourage migrant lifestyle and anchor them into the city to prevent the back and forth oscillation.
Construction industry and the infrastructure it builds is core to the growth of the nation, so about time we look at those engaged in it with serious consideration.