A Small Step towards Dignity of Labour*
Raghunath Lohar, an aeronautical student was walking past a construction site when he saw woman carrying bricks on her head lose her balance. A heavy brick fell on her foot and broke her toes. He felt bad for the woman but more than that this incident raised several questions in his mind. What for is he an engineer if he cannot devise an implement that could help lessen the burden of these people. He started thinking of ways on how this could be done. Then he saw an advertisement from the National Innovation Council which called for proposals on models that could reduce the drudgery of the workers. This gave him an incentive to start working on what he had been thinking ever since he saw the womanlabourer break her toes. Finally he was able to design a vessel desk. Bricks and other material could be put in this vessel and the light desk to carry it was so designed that it distributed the burden on the two shoulders instead of the whole weight falling on the head. Also there was no question of losing the balance with this implement. He sent the design to National Innovation Council. His model was selected for the award which carried a cash prize of 50,000 rupees. The vessel desk can be used by both men and women. Raghunathhas also designed different kinds of attachments to go with the model for use separately by farmers or other workers to reduce their drudgery. Also the model suits the Indian conditions. Raghunath says that it cost him between 700 to 800 rupees to make this model. He feels that the model can be improved upon and produced on a large scale for use by construction workers.
We often see women young and old carrying loads of bricks and other construction material on their heads or men carrying huge sacks of food grains and other stuff or these people breaking stones at construction sites in severe weather conditions risking all kinds of injuries. Also we see men with bare bodies getting into manholes to clean sewers without any safe guards or proper implements. While science and technology in our country has advanced by leaps and bounds very little thought has gone into manufacturing simple and low cost implements that could reduce the risks of injury, pain and physical burden and drudgery of the working class.
These questions had bothered him says Sam Pitroda, the Chairman of the National Innovation Council. Mr. Pitroda says that attention has for too long been focused on the problems of the rich and there was a need for Indian model of inclusive innovation that focused on the poor and the common man.
The Council therefore decided to make a beginning by the launch of ‘The Challenge’ last year seeking innovative ideas in the areas of design improvement of work implements, new equipment, techniques for different kind of workers to reduce their drudgery. The challenge was not only to work on implements, processes, and models that could improve work conditions, but these innovations should not lead to labour displacement.
More than 450 proposals and designs of models were received this year. Six of them were selected for the first ever innovation awards of this kind. Among the six winning innovations was a low cost cycle for the physically challenged. Although in the developed countries, the physically challenged are not dependent on others because they have different kinds of aids that help them in coping with their day to day life. In our country unfortunately even simple gadgets have either not been devised or made available to the physically challenged to make their life less dependent on others.
The proposal came from three young men from Chennai. The Cycle is for the disabled without hands. What motivated them to work on this model?
Once when the three young men Mahesh PV, Ajith T Alex and Anand Ganesh were travelling they saw a one-handed person getting into the bus with great difficulty. That time they took the decision that some transportation facility has to be made for reducing the difficulty of a handless person. Then during a brain-storming session they decided to start working on a cycle that could be driven by people who lost their arms and hands. This cycle is not only cost effective but eco-friendly as well.
The three young men are now continuing their talks with the government for further expansion to reach the needy and reducing their difficulty and dependence on others.
Their challenge now is to work on a cycle that could be driven by a physically challenged person who does not have either hands or feet.
Manjunath’s display Unit for small Hawkers and Street Vendors was also selected for the award.
Manjunath was already working on Street vendors in his Master's thesis Projects. So he could use the case study of his thesis the Post Your Ideas Program by National innovation council.
This model is for Direct and semi-processing retail products. There are some limitations like the size of the products but it is transformable furniture and can be moved quickly and easily. It’s handy and can be moved from one place to another without any difficulty. The material used to make the product can be recyclable plastic. The idea behind his model is also to save the space which is shrinking with increasing population Jitendra Das, former Asst Engineer with KMC Kolkata says that all his life he had been seeing the workers getting into manholes and cleans sewerages and that is why he created the model of a picking Grab for sanitation workers without exposing hands.
The ideas generated by this first innovation challenge says the Council is just a starting point to involve the wider community to solve the problem of the bottom of the pyramid. What the chairman the National Innovation council wants is a legislation focused on dignity of labour. He says that to start with at least at the construction sites of projects that are funded by the government, the workers should be provided with facilities like portable toilets and implements like wheel barrow.
The council has taken the first step to provide dignity to labour by the launch of the innovative challenge for implements to reduce the drudgery of the workers, the onus is now on the polity of the country to ensure through laws that every worker in the country gets at least minimum basic amenities and are given the dignity they truly deserve.
Disclaimer: The views expressed by the author in this article are her own and do not necessarily reflect the views of INVC.
*The author is a Freelance Writer.