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Murders by govt: Bezwada Wilson on spate of manual scavenger deaths in Delhi

Priyata Brajabasi | Updated on: 21 August 2017, 20:33 IST
(PTI photo)

One sanitation worker died and two were taken ill after inhaling toxic gas while cleaning a sewer at the Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan Hospital (LNJP) in Delhi on Sunday.

It seems the blame for the incident is being passed between the municipality, the Public Works Department (PWD) and the state government.

Bezwada Wilson, national convenor of the Safai Karamchari Andolan spoke to Catch about the incident, and said the government agencies' neglect was leading to unabated deaths of safai karamcharis in the country.

“In the wake of 10 sanitation workers' deaths in a month in the city, the Delhi government has once again called an emergency meeting. It wants to set up vigilance committees. But that is nothing new. Every time something like this happens, the government calls meetings and sets up committees,” Wilson said.

“What the government needs to do is completely ban manual scavenging. The law states that no human being should step into a sewer or a drain to clean it. Why should the underprivileged suffer because we do not have a proper mechanism to flush down waste? We do not even have proper protective gear, masks, gloves, jumpsuits etc for manual scavengers. In Delhi, we have learnt that in most cases of such deaths, manual scavengers were hired by government agencies such as the Delhi Jal Board (DJB), the PWD and the municipal corporation. But as always, all agencies are now pointing the finger at one another. The government should be held responsible for these deaths, and the agencies concerned should be booked under the SC/ST Act. These deaths are murders committed by the government.”

Latest incident

On Sunday afternoon, Rishi Pal (45, the deceased), Bishan (30), Kiran Pal (25) and Sumit (30), were hired by a private contractor for cleaning the sewer outside LNJP Hospital. Rishi Pal was reportedly promised Rs 650 for the job, which is much higher than what he usually earned.

Sumit told reporters that the deceased had gone inside a sewer in a park near gate No.2 of the hospital, using a rope and without any protective gear or ladder, while the others stood by.

“The sewer line was filled with poisonous gas. Within seconds, he fell unconscious and did not respond to our calls. Bishen and Kiran went inside, but they also fell unconscious. We then took help of locals and brought them out,” he said.

The three men were taken to Lok Nayak hospital, where Rishi Pal was declared dead. Bishen and Kiran Pal are under treatment in the hospital.

The police has registered a case of causing death by negligence against the contractor.

Recent instances

According to reports, on 12 August, two sanitation workers had died of suffocation while cleaning a septic pit at a shopping mall in Delhi's Anand Vihar. On 6 August, three sanitation workers had died due to asphyxiation while cleaning a sewer line in Delhi's Lajpat Nagar area. Four had died on 15 July after they entered a septic tank in Ghitorni.

After the latest incident at LNJP Hospital, Delhi's minister of health and PWD, Satyendra Jain, visited the family of the deceased and the injured. He has sought a detailed report and said action will be taken on the basis of the report.

Wilson also visited the family, and said: “I met the family of the Rishi Pal in the hospital yesterday. They did not even know what happened. Like most manual scavengers, they are extremely poor and low caste, and are obviously the ideal candidates for manual scavenging recruited by contractors. To sustain their families, they are willing to enter the sewers because they get paid Rs 500-600 for the job. The family was scared to name the contractor. The government does not care about the lives of people from lower castes, especially because they agree to do this work in desperation.”

First published: 21 August 2017, 20:33 IST
Priyata Brajabasi @PriyataB

Priyata thinks in words and delivers in pictures. The marriage of the two, she believes, is of utmost importance. Priyata joined the Catch team after working at Barcroft Media as a picture desk editor. Prior to that she was on the Output Desk of NDTV 24X7. At work Priyata is all about the news. Outside of it, she can't stay far enough. She immerses herself in stories through films, books and television shows. Oh, and she can eat. Like really.