While the Delhi Jal Board (DJB) has maintained that the three men who died inside a sewer in Lajpat Nagar on Sunday were not “employed” or “associated” with it, an FIR registered on Monday suggests otherwise. According to the FIR, the four labourers, three of whom died, were asked to work by a “contractor of the DJB”. The FIR was registered based on a statement by Rakesh, the lone survivor. As per the FIR, Rakesh (40) told police that he took up the job after a contractor named Dinesh, who “worked for DJB”, asked him to clean the sewer line. The FIR also mentions that a DJB vehicle and its driver were present at the spot. A case has been registered against Dinesh under IPC section 304 (punishment for culpable homicide not amounting to murder).
In his statement to police, Rakesh, who has cleaned sewers for 20 years, said, “I work as a sewer cleaner under Dinesh, who is a contractor of the DJB… I have worked for Dinesh in the past, and had asked him to provide us masks on several occasions, but he did not do so.” The FIR stated that Rakesh and the three other labourers reached Jal Vihar road in Lajpat Nagar at 10.30 am and started cleaning the sewer. “We had to open 25 manhole covers along the sewer line and clean it till the Ring Road. We had reached the third lid till noon. That’s when I left to bring a hammer from the nearby market. Soon after, I received a call from the driver of the DJB vehicle that three people had drowned after inhaling toxic gases inside the sewer. I rushed to the spot,” the FIR quoted Rakesh as saying.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Rakesh said that when he reached, all three labourers were “unconscious” inside the sewer: “Police had reached. I tied a rope around my waist and entered. A very bad smell emanated from the 25-foot deep sewer… it was suffocating. Within seconds, I screamed at them to pull me up.”
Rakesh spent Monday at Lajpat Nagar police station trying to assist police in the probe. He said he had been approached by Dinesh’s employee on Saturday. “The daily wage was fixed at Rs 300 per labourer,” he said.
“The other three labourers were not experienced. Before I went away, I told them to wait as the water from the DJB vehicle needed to be released inside the sewer to clear the toxic gases… but they went ahead,” he said. Police sources said they visited the DJB office on Monday to get more details about the contractor. “Since it was Rakhi, we could not ascertain the whereabouts of the contractor or his connection with DJB. We will try again on Tuesday,” said an officer.
An official of the Delhi water ministry maintained that “an inquiry is on” and a report is expected in “the next three days”. A DJB source claimed, “The executive engineer had not tasked the contractor with any work… No officer would give such an order, they are aware of the risks.”