Two dead after inhaling fumes at jewellery factory waste tank in Delhi’s Azadpur

Updated on Oct 20, 2020 05:36 AM IST

Four of their employees, who were helping to pull out the waste that contains gold particles, fell unconscious and had to be hospitalised.

The families of the two dead men -- Idris and Salim, both aged 45 -- suspected foul play, saying a lot was at stake -- gold and hard cash as commission to collect the muck from the factory.(Representative Photo/Getty Images)
The families of the two dead men -- Idris and Salim, both aged 45 -- suspected foul play, saying a lot was at stake -- gold and hard cash as commission to collect the muck from the factory.(Representative Photo/Getty Images)
Hindustan Times, New Delhi | ByShiv Sunny

Two cousins who were in the business of separating gold from muck died after inhaling poisonous gases while extracting waste from an underground tank at a jewellery factory in north Delhi’s Azadpur on Sunday evening, police said.

Four of their employees, who were helping to pull out the waste that contains gold particles, fell unconscious and had to be hospitalised.

The families of the two dead men -- Idris and Salim, both aged 45 -- suspected foul play, saying a lot was at stake -- gold and hard cash as commission to collect the muck from the factory.

But police said it was “open and shut case” of death due to asphyxiation while clearing an underground tank.

“We arrested the factory owner and a Delhi-based contractor on charges of culpable homicide not amounting to murder and for causing hurt by a rash act,” Vijayanta Arya, deputy commissioner of police (north-west), said.

Ruling out any conspiracy, the officer said the people who had entered the tank were not provided any safety gear.

The factory located in Azadpur along GT Karnal Road is into manufacturing gold and silver chains. Like at many other such units, during the manufacture and cleaning process, gold particles are washed down and collected in a large underground tank.

“The water with which the factory workers bath at the end of the day’s work also goes into the same tank, as do chemicals used to clean the gold and silver,” the DCP explained.

All the waste material contains gold particles, which are extracted through a tedious process that involves washing the muck again and again and waiting for the gold to settle down before it is collected..

Big jewellery factories often outsource cleaning of these tanks to private players, who are part of a largely unorganised trade, in lieu of some cash or a part of gold extracted from the waste.

In this case, the work was outsourced to two 45-year-old cousins -- Idris and Salim -- from Khurja in Uttar Pradesh.

“This was the first time my cousins were working for this factory. The deal was to pay 820 grams of gold and R30 lakh cash to the factory in return for the muck and extracting gold out of it,” said Mohammad Arif, brother of Idris. They were working for the last 15 days, he said.

HT tried to contact the factory office-bearers for their version of the deal and the allegations but the owners did not permit entry into the building on Monday afternoon.

On Sunday morning, Idris and Salim arrived in Delhi in a Tata Scorpio with five full-time and part-time workers. They uses buckets to haul out muck from the 20 feet deep tank with a narrow opening at the top.

“We began work at 10am and had collected about 50 large buckets of muck by 4pm. We didn’t need to enter the tank until the last of the muck remained. Since the remaining waste needed to be hauled out manually by entering the tank, we decided to go in,” said Mansoor, 38, a full-time worker who survived despite falling unconscious.

Mansoor alleged that the two business partners asked the factory owner, Rajender Soni, and contractor Pramod Dangi, for oxygen cylinders to be able to carry out the work safely but received no such gear.

“Finally, Idris lowered me into the tank with the help of a rope. I was inside for barely five minutes when I began to lose unconscious. I managed to alert Idris in time and he hauled me out,” Mansoor said.

Mansoor said he fell unconscious after that and didn’t remember much.

Another worker also named Salim said he too fell unconscious around the same time even through he did not even enter the tank.

Both men said they had been doing this job for several years for a daily salary of R500 -- work or no work -- and for free food and stay that came along with the job.

It remained unclear at what time and in what circumstances Idris and his partner Salim, or exactly how many people, entered the tank. But the police received a call at about 6.45pm about some workers falling unconscious.

“Idris, Salim and a worker named Islam were pulled out of the tank. Six people were affected by the poisonous gases and they were all rushed to Babu Jagjivan Ram Hospital. While Idris and Salim died, Islam continues to remain hospitalised. Three others were discharged after treatment,” said another police officer.

Relatives of Idris and his cousin Salim said they had never heard of the two men entering the muck before. “Their work involved lakhs of rupees and they didn’t ever need to do this work by themselves. That is why they would take along so many labourers,” said Shoaib Ahmed, brother-in-law of Idris, saying the police should probe the deaths as a murder case.

The DCP said the first information report (FIR) was registered on the statement of a surviving worker and there was no allegations of foul play by the complainant.

In a slightly similar incident,two men were killed and another hospitalised after they were exposed to poisonous fumes while cleaning a septic tank in south Delhi’s Badarpur on October 10.

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