Sewer deaths: Father’s first journey by air is to arrange for son’s last journey home
“I never dreamt that I will ever board a flight in my life, but I did so for the worst reason — to bring back the body of my son,” said 65-year-old Jawahar Rai, whose son Vijay Kumar, 40, was one of the five men who suffocated to death inside a manhole in Krishna Kunj locality of Ghaziabad on Thursday.
Vijay Kumar and his brother-in-law Shiv Kumar, 32, and workers, Horil, 35, Sanjeet, 30, and Damodar,40, were killed after one of them fell into the 15-foot deep under-construction sewer, and the others went in one-by-one to retrieve the others, with no safety gear except for a piece of cloth tied around their face as protection gainst the fumes. The five were brought out of the drain by locals and police, and were later declared dead at the hospital.
All of them hailed from Samastipur in Bihar and their families reached Ghaziabad on Friday and have sought the help of the administration to take the bodies back to their village.
Rai said, “The officials of the contractor company arranged our flight tickets to Delhi and also offered us money so that we would remain silent. But I told them that I do not require the money and will surely lodge an FIR.” Rai and the other family members reached the Hindon mortuary by Friday afternoon.
“Vijay last came to our home one-and-a-half months ago. I never thought that would be the last time I saw him. We have small agricultural fields and his older son is working in Jharkhand. Any compensation should be given to his children.” Rai said.
The five workers were from nearby villages in Samastipur and had were working as daily-wage earners in Ghaziabad for the construction of UP Jal Nigam’s sewer line project. They were hired by a company assigned to construct the sewer line.
Bindu, Vijay’s co-worker, said, “Vijay brought 11 workers with him, and we all were offered ₹400 a day. We are not trained — we learnt construction work over time. For the past four or five months, we have not received our salaries. The company gives us ₹1,000-2,000 whenever we ask for our salaries. Of the 11, four had gone home for Rakshabandhan, but seven could not go as we had no money, as well as due to the floods in Bihar.”
“The belongings of all five men are still lying in the godown where we live and we will hand them over to their families. It is our wish that their bodies be safely taken to Bihar for the last rites,” he said.
The workers were staying on the site of a company that shut down operations a decade ago — the dilapidated building is used by workers as a free accommodation.
“There is no electricity or other facilities there. We sleep in the open or on the terrace and prepare food over a chulha (wood stove). We stay there to save money on rent and we send that to our families back home. After the incident on Thursday, I was called by the police and I identified the bodies,” Lal Tun, another co-worker, said.
The men said Damodar is survived by four minor daughters and his only son died two years ago due to health complications. “His mother is partially blind and his father died six-seven years ago. He was the sole earning member for his family. Now, his family has no one left to fend for them. Horil also had four children and aged parents and a wife to take care of,” Lal Tun said.
“All five men were the only earning members of their families. Sanjeet was one of five brothers. One of the brothers died in 2004 due to an ailment. On Thursday, the men had gone to the drain site for repair work. The contractor had given them only face masks, but they left them behind and had a piece of cloth tied to around their face,” Sunil Kumar, Sanjeet’s brother, said.
Shiv Kumar was the brother-in-law of Vijay. “My older daughter got married to him nine years ago. Now she is left with two minor children and no means of livelihood. I got the first call about the incident from her on Thursday afternoon — she said that Shiv was in a critical condition. The next call was to inform me of his death,” Ram Nath Rai, Shiv Kumar’s father-in-law, who lives in Rampura, Delhi, said.
Officials of the Ghaziabad district administration have assured the families that all help will be provided to safely transport the bodies to Bihar in ambulances.