Deaths in sewer spark apathy charge

The death of five youths while cleaning a sewer tank here have exposed a gated residential community to charges of apathy and failure to provide basic safety equipment to the workers.

By Basant Kumar Mohanty
  • Published 11.09.18
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A labourer works near an open manhole at Connaught Place in New Delhi. File picture

New Delhi: The death of five youths while cleaning a sewer tank here have exposed a gated residential community to charges of apathy and failure to provide basic safety equipment to the workers.

Five manual scavengers aged between 18 and 30 died while cleaning the sewer tank in DLF Green Apartments in Moti Nagar in West Delhi on Sunday.

A 32-year-old supervisor was on Monday arrested for alleged negligence that led to the death of the five people, police said. Ajay Chaudhary, an engineer working with JLL company - tasked with the maintenance of the sewer tank - was arrested, deputy commissioner of police (West) Monika Bhardwaj said.

Magsaysay award winner and president of Safai Karmachari Andolan (SKA) Bezwada Wilson and National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC) chairperson Ram Shankar Katheria and vice-chairman L. Murugan visited the society and found the workers were not provided the basic equipment like plastic shoes, mask and gloves.

"The DLF society, a 26-storied building, does not have proper safety tank for treatment and disposal of the swage. The Delhi government must stop all construction of DLF and find out if the buildings comply to the safety norms," Wilson said.

The NCSC instructed the police to name DLF authorities in the FIR.

"The workers did not have the basic safety equipment. The DLF apartment should have provided the facility. We have asked police to name the apartment authorities, contractor and others who are responsible in the FIR," Murugan told The Telegraph.

The gated society has put in place layers of security at the entry point. "No reporter will be allowed. The society has decided," said a man at the gate.

Wilson said 1,876 people, including 96 in Delhi, have died while cleaning sewer lines in the past five to six years.

While Prime Minister Narendra Modi and social justice minister Thawaarchand Gehlot have maintained silence, food minister Ram Vilas Paswan expressed shock over the tragedy.

In a statement, Paswan demanded an immediate ban on manual cleaning of sewer drains. He said related offences should attract imprisonment of at least 10 years and a fine of Rs 50 lakh.

The Manual Scavengers Act bans the practice in all forms and provides for the rehabilitation of the scavengers. According to the Census data of 2011, as many as 3 lakh scavengers were engaged in cleaning dry toilets.

The workers were employed for housekeeping but were compelled to clean the sewerage and safety tanks. Four of them were killed on the spot while fifth one died in the hospital.

The Delhi state committee of the Dalit Shoshan Mukti Manch (DSMM), which met the family members of the deceased, also highlighted the lack of safety equipment.

"Contractors or employer usually work hand in hand to exploit the workers. There is nobody to raise their voices as they belong to lower rung of the society. And this is the reason, despite the complete ban, for such incidents occurring in Delhi and other states quite often," said DSMM general secretary Nathu Prasad.

The Safai Karmachari Andolan has alleged that the central government has neglected the manual scavengers. In this year's budget, the Union government allocated Rs 20 crore for rehabilitation of manual scavengers.

The ministry of social justice and empowerment runs a self-employment scheme for the rehabilitation of manual scavengers under which the identified scavengers are provided loans up to Rs 15 lakh for income-generating activities. The scheme also provides for skill-development training with a stipend of Rs 3000 per month for up to two years and a one-time assistance of Rs 40,000.