Kolkata, Feb 10 (IANS) The iconic Eden Gardens may have lost one World Cup match due to its poor preparedness, but a faceless army of 1,600 workers is toiling away to ensure that the turf lives up to its hallowed reputation for the remaining three games next month.
Mostly from eastern India, they are working day and night. As long as the renovation work continues at Eden, they will have a regular income – and perhaps a golden chance to catch some cricket superstars in person.
“Sunechi saamner maas theke ‘kirkit’ khela hobe. Ami chai ei bhabheyi kaaj choluk tahole amra free te khela dekhte parbo. (Heard that the matches will start next month. Hope the work continues so we get to see some matches for free),” Arshaddul, 17, quipped in Bengali, standing on a scaffolding with a sackload of sand on his head.
Although a Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) official put the number of workers at 1,600, the labourers say many more had been engaged.
“There are 100 painters, over 250 masons and more than 1,000 helpers. Then there are scores of carpenters, plumbers, electricians, welders and other helpers. We have around 3,000 people working here,” said Biswanath Basak, a painter.
The bulk of workers are from the rural areas of West Bengal while some have come from Bihar and Orissa. The workers, who toil in two shifts of five hours each with an hour-long interval, are paid anything from Rs.130 to Rs.300 per day, depending on the nature of work.
The past few weeks have been hectic for them as the stadium was supposed to be ready by the end of January. The workers report for work as early as 7 a.m. while at night, some say, the grind goes on well past 10 p.m.
“A few days ago I saw a man – who others said was a big shot – shouting at the supervisors and engineers, telling them to get the job done quickly,” said a mason from Samastipur, Bihar.
The International Cricket Council has, after all, decided that Eden was not prepared to hold the Feb 27 India-England tie. For the remaining three matches – South Africa-Ireland March 15, the Netherlands-Ireland March 18, Zimbabwe-Kenya March 20 – the CAB has ticked off the contractor to get into action and get the stadium ready.
Cricket’s showpiece event begins Feb 19. The workers have been busy renovating Eden from top to bottom. Over 100 of them are getting the roof ready.
Sanjay, a welder who had just climbed down from the roof for his lunch, said he was afraid of heights. “But what can I do? I have five mouths to feed at home. It’s my job. I have to do it. If I don’t they will get others to do it.”
The labourers claim there have been several incidents of workers getting injured, either falling off from a height or building material falling on them. But the authorities refuse to confirm it.
Poverty is the one thing common to all the workers.
“I was a farmer. I had land of my own. But the flood and the money lender took everything away. The only thing I was left with was my starving family,” said Srihari, a labourer from Madhepura, Bihar.
Many others too have been forced to come to this city, far away from home, in search of a livelihood. And they are the ones toiling to ensure that Eden lives up to its past glory.