News of Deepak Jain’s illness spread like wildfire in the serpentine and dusty lanes of Mayapuri Industrial area.
The shopkeepers and workers there could not understand what had turned Jain’s body black. It was much later that they realized that what had affected Jain and his men was a highly radioactive material.
Till then, most of them were actually giving ‘guided tours’ to people and explaining them where and how the quantity of Cobalt-60 was found.
“We did not know it could harm us. Some of them actually went near the material to show people what it was,” said Rajesh Tandon, a scrap dealer.
Panic spread in the area when the effects of Cobalt-60 came to be known.
Working for a dismal wage of Rs 60 per day, hundreds of labourers at the scrap dealing shops in Mayapuri endanger their lives on a daily basis. Dealing with all sorts of material and breaking them down they do not know what might end up being fatal for them.
“We break down everything from empty artillery shells to strange materials which come in sealed drums. On a daily basis we meet with accidents. In return we manage to earn around Rs 100 per day,” said Shiv Ram, a daily wager working at a scrap shop.
Mayapuri Industrial area, although an important destination, does not even have proper roads, let alone other amenities. There are around 2,500 shops in the area. Scrap metal worth crores is broken down and recycled here.
“Have you seen the condition of this area? We deal with materials worth crores but there is no infrastructure here. Time and again, we have tried to get the authorities to build proper roads here. But nothing. We do not have proper water supplies. The civic agencies turn a blind eye and don’t do anything about it. There is no road here. Sometimes we work in candlelight,” said Jaswinder Singh Tandon, president, Market Associaton, Mayapuri Phase-II.
The labourers here face lot many medical problems on a daily basis.
“There is no check on the kind of substance brought to the scrap market and we can’t screen each and everything entering the area. We have to devise some way to screen them. This was the first time such an incident has taken place,” said Sharad Agarwal, deputy commissioner of police (west).
The entire D Lane of Khajan Basti where the two scrap shops storing the radioactive material were located was shut down as a precautionary measure.