Jitendra Kumar goes around in the dusty terrain of south Delhi’s Moti Bagh, where metro construction is progressing in full swing, supervising his subordinates as they go about their daily duty of mixing cement and setting the mortar.
Kumar said these workers were initially given masks and gloves, along with their safety gear, to protect them from constant exposure to pollution. But now the company did not seem to mind compromising on the health of hundreds of workers in a bid to earn profits.
In Delhi, around 4,000 tonnes of construction waste is generated every day. This constitutes around 40% of the total waste generated in the city.
“We spend at least 12 to 14 hours in this dust daily. Though we have been given safety gear for protection, the damage caused internally is much greater. Earlier, we were working with masks and gloves. After our night shift, the entire area was sprinkled with water to let the dust settle down. But this has stopped due to insufficient funds,” said Kumar.
In an affidavit submitted by the ministry of environment and forest to the Supreme Court last month, it was noted that dust particles were the highest source of pollution in Delhi. Dust contributed to 52% of particulate matter in the air with vehicular emissions contributing to only 6.6%.
Construction workers at flyover sites work in worse conditions with private contractors not taking the trouble of providing any protective gear to them.
One of them, Devyani, who has been working at the Wazirabad flyover on the Outer Ring Road, has no option but to carry bricks and cement on her head with her eight-month-old baby strapped to her back.
Devyani said the constant dust in the air might be dangerous both for her and the baby but she cannot leave the child unattended.
Experts and doctors said a person who is constantly exposed to dust particles ends up inhaling both visible as well as suspended particulate matter.
“Over the years, these workers run the risk of inhaling silica, which escapes the filter mechanism of nose and the throat. This reduces the capacity of the lungs and makes the person vulnerable to diseases like tuberculosis,” said Dr Neeraj Jain, chest specialist, Ganga Ram Hospital.
He said if such particles enter the airway and reach the end, they tends to accumulate in the lung tissues and cause injury to the lungs. Silica particles, for instance, give off toxic substances which are responsible for scarring of the lungs.