Corporate cradles

Updated: Apr 30 2006, 06:21am hrs
One can hear the concrete mixers creaking and groaning. And above the din, if you listen carefully, you can hear the lilting voices of children singing a nursery rhyme. Follow the voices and you will reach a tiny brick-lined room with a tin shed. The room is divided into three parts: the creche for children under 2 years, the balwadi (pre-school) for the 3-5 year olds, and non-formal-education for 6 years and above. And this is where Mobile Creches helps weave dreams among children of migrant labourers and construction workers.

Although the Building and other Construction Workers Act, 1996 requires that if more than 50 women are employed, rooms should be provided for the use of their children, this is followed more in the breach. The easiest way to escape this requirement is not to hire women, or keep the numbers below 50. And then small-time contractors can turn a blind eye to the provision.

It was to nudge them in the right direction that Mobile Creches, an NGO, started opening makeshift structures at construction sites, persuading contractors and builders to chip in. That was in 1969, much before anybody thought of evolving a legislation to protect the children of construction workers. Till date, Mobile Creches has helped 600,000 children with around 450 day-care centres.

When contractors see the direct benefits of these creches they are ready to shoulder a bigger responsibility. Otherwise, you would find very few contractors doing it on their own. Of course, the pressure to follow labour laws has made them more open to the idea, says Anjali Alexander, communication executive of the Creches Delhi chapter.

In Delhi, several corporates have come forward to run these creches. In Gurgaon and Noida, on the borders of Delhi, where a lot of construction activity is going on, developers like Unitech, DLF, Jaipuria Construction, Assotech have chipped in with funds to carry out this initiative. Says Moti Massand, director, Vipul Ltd, based in Gurgaon, We have set up these mobile creche units at Vipul Belmonte, Vipul Greens, Vipul TechSquare, Vipul Gardens and Sun City, where a lot of high-rise buildings are coming up.

On an average, we spend Rs 30,000 per month at each of these centres on mid-day meals, educational activities and construction of the centre. We also provide electricity, sanitation and drinking water to these facilities.

According to Mridula Bajaj, executive director, Mobile Creches, the success of these units depends on the involvement of the person at the helm of affairs in a construction company. If the principal employer is sensitive and true to his social responsibility, then things move fast. The big developers work in a professional way, motivating the contractors who have to pick up the tab.

Unitech is a case in point, she says, where each project manager has carried on with the same level of enthusiasm. We have associated with Mobile Creches for more than 10 years. Even as Gurgaon developed, we have been running these units, moving from one construction site to another, says a Unitech official.

Besides construction companies, Mobile Creches has seen many other firms offer a helping hand, whether it is to raise funds, volunteer service or provide material help. Wrtsil India supports a mobile creche at Gurgaon where the hygiene, health and education of the children of the construction workers are looked after.