Sunday, August 13, 2017

Commentary: the indignity of dying in the sewers

Even as the nation mourns the death of over 60 children in a Gorakhpur hospital and even as ordinary citizens feel outraged by the suspension of Dr Kafeel Ahmad at the hospital who made super-human efforts to save the children, there is another kind of tragic death that deserves our attention too. As if living a life of indignity was not bad enough, the death of sewage workers in India due to toxic gases has become a routine. According to this report, ‘The tragedy happened six days after three sanitation workers died inside a Delhi Jal Board-managed sewer line in Lajpat Nagar. Before that, four labourers were trapped to death in a sewage tank in south Delhi’s Ghitorni in July.’ While it is not our practice to maintain data on such deaths, according to an estimate in the report, around 100 people die in our sewers every year, which seems a very conservative figure looking at Delhi alone. It is not clear why this task cannot be partly or fully mechanized to keep human beings at a safe distance from the poisonous filth. The safety gear listed by the report includes gas masks, safety harness belts, helmets and mechanized equipment at dangerous sites such as clogged underground sewers – all of which must be provided by the employer. The incident took place at a shopping mall in east Delhi and one fails to understand why the resourceful employer failed to invest in some basic safety measures. There is even a law entailing imprisonment when the employer fails to fulfill his duty. But like many other instances, who is there to enforce such laws! So let us add to our long list of cries in the wilderness as governance at every level gives in to nonchalant indifference!

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