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Delhi sewer deaths: Contractor on the run, workers not DJB employees, says water minister

The three persons were cleaning a sewer line in Lajpat Nagar near the Kabir Ram temple on Sunday afternoon. They went inside, inhaled toxic fumes and were found unconscious.

delhi Updated: Aug 07, 2017 22:13 IST
Ritam Halder
Ritam Halder
HIndustan Times
DJB,sewer deaths,delhi jal board
Three sanitation workers lost their lives in a sewer at Jal Vihar in New Delhi on Sunday.

A day after three men died of suffocation while cleaning a South Delhi sewer, Delhi water minister Rajendra Gautam on Monday said the contractor who reportedly engaged the men is absconding.

“We need to find that person to find why and under whose authority were these men engaged in the work and that too without any protective gear. No Delhi Jal Board engineer is taking responsibility. So we don’t know yet why were those three there. They were not our employees,” Gautam said.

The three persons were cleaning a sewer line in Lajpat Nagar near the Kabir Ram temple on Sunday afternoon. They went inside, inhaled toxic fumes and were found unconscious.

Police have registered a case of culpable homicide not amounting to murder against the private contractor who hired the three to clean the DJB sewer line but did not provide protective equipment.

The civic authorities are required to give boots, helmets, gloves and masks to sanitation staff but the guidelines are rarely followed.

The authorities claim that the cleaning staff are so used to working with their bare hands that even if safety equipment is provided they don’t use it.

On Monday, the water minister, deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia, the Delhi Jal Board CEO and the local district magistrate was scheduled to visit the site. But they had to cancel the plan because of heavy traffic jams.

Asked if the government planned any compensation for the victims, the water minister said a decision will be taken once there is clarity on the incident.

Earlier on Sunday, Delhi BJP chief Manoj Tiwari had demanded a high-level probe into the incident and compensation, in line with what DJB employees get, for the families of all three victims.

Tragedy before Rakshabandhan

Two of the three men who died inside a poisonous sewer in Lajpat Nagar on Sunday were eagerly waiting for Rakshabandhan to celebrate the day with their sisters.

While one of their sisters would have tied a rakhi on her brother’s arms from a hospital bed, the other had travelled all the way from Bihar to Delhi.

The first was Joginder, 32 -- the third man to enter the ill-fated manhole on Sunday afternoon. The unmarried man’s sister is in a Ghaziabad hospital where she is set to undergo a heart surgery.

“Joginder and I had been looking forward to Rakshabandhan and we planned to meet our sister in hospital,” said his brother, Ajay, who had to spend the day at the AIIMS mortuary from where he was to collect his brother’s body.

“I waited for hours before I broke the news to our sister,” said Ajay.

The other worker was 21-year-old Mohan who had remained unidentified for hours after the accident.

“Our sister had travelled to Delhi all the way from Bihar so that she could celebrate Rakshabandhan with us. We got to know of Mohan’s death within hours of our sister reaching Delhi,” said Mohan’s brother, Bablu.

The third victim, 25-year-old Annu, left behind his wife and a three-year-old son. “No one wants to do this dirty job but Annu was forced to take it up a few years ago as he needed to feed his family,” said his relative Deepak.

The relatives of the victims said the contractors never provided them anything more than a bucket, a spade and a rope.

“No safety equipment is ever provided. Even the rope is not meant for our safety. It is used to pull up buckets filled with muck,” alleged Ajay, who claimed he worked for a contractor employed by Delhi Jal Board.

“We know about the poisonous gases but we go inside because we need money,” said Ajay who said his dead brother earned anywhere between Rs 5,000 and Rs 7,000 per month for the job.

First Published: Aug 07, 2017 22:12 IST