New Delhi: Risks of getting succumbed to death while getting into a gutter are high, yet people cleaning sewage do not hesitate entering one. The 55 year old Uday Ram knows that it may prove fatal, yet he does gets into the narrow manhole filled with fermented faeces, urine and other chronic waste flushed down by millions in the capital - and the part to be seen is that a piece of cloth tied around his mouth is his only protection.
Ram is one among the thousands of sewer workers employed by contractors who venture into a mixture of deadly waste, armed only with a bamboo stick to remove clogs. It is no wonder many die an inhuman death.
Only last week, laborers died in east Delhi after inhaling poisonous fumes while cleaning a sewage treatment tank. Five others who rushed to save them fell unconscious. Such incidents seldom seem to jolt agencies like the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), which uses sewer workers supplied by contractors.
Despite several crores being given to the ministry under which the waste management comes, still the field remains unaltered, unmodified, hence threatening the lives of these workers
"At least 25 manual scavengers die a month in Delhi because they work without proper equipment. Thousands suffer from serious health problems and die performing a dehumanising job," Harnam Singh, chairman of the Delhi Commission for Safai Karmcharis told. But still knowing all the facts, the civic agencies are not bothered.
According to the Jal Mal Karamchari Sangh, an association of sewer workers, which dominantly takes care of sewers has about over 13 lakh sewage workers across the country.
The contractors supply workers to the MCD and Municipal Council in almost all cities.
"Many die in sewers while cleaning drainage blocks. No FIR (First Information Report) is lodged," Devraj Bhadana, general secretary, Delhi Jal Mal Karamchari Sangh tells. Bhadana said that those facing maximum hazards were the contractual labourers. Those employed by civic agencies get safety kits, including oxygen cylinder and mask besides medical insurance.
Why do sewage cleaners die?
Those who get safety kits claim they are not user friendly. One of the workers informs that they get a thick rope with safety belts, which helps to pull up a worker if he faints.
"The oxygen masks are not in good condition and oxygen cylinders weighing 16 kg are too heavy for us to carry," said the 45-year-old.
Officials on the other hand have another story. They say that workers are allowed to clean only shallow manholes and are provided with gumboots and gloves. "We use super suction machines to clean deep sewers. Workers are given masks," says an official who refuses to be named.
These workers tend to suffer from chronic diseases due to working in such places. Most suffer from tuberculosis and respiratory problems and skin allergies as they inhale methane and hydrogen sulphide gases generated in sewage, which are highly toxic. Health experts say that most sewer workers' life expectancy is 10 years less than the national average. To beat the filth, many take alcohol gradually getting addicted to it.
Is there no way to improve the facilities provided to the workers who help in improving our living conditions. It is well known that government parts out a good amount of money into the department, still nothing seems to be improvised, why?