As many as 2,403 sanitation workers died in the last five years before reaching the age of retirement, data provided by the three municipal corporations shows. The North corporation reported the most deaths, at 1,181. The South body saw 877 deaths, while 345 employees of the east body died before turning 60.
There are around 32,000 sanitation workers employed by the North body — 17,000 permanent and the remaining temporary. The East has around 14,000 workers, of which half are permanent; while South has 12,000 permanent and 8,500 temporary workers.
“We have been demanding cashless medical cards with complete reimbursement for years, but in vain. In my area (Sheikh Sarai), several families have lost relatives, but have not received jobs on compassionate grounds,” said Rajesh Beniwal, president of the Delhi Pradesh All India Safai Majdoor Congress.
A senior East corporation official said, “These deaths cannot be attributed directly to working conditions as the reason varies from physical ailments to living condition and drinking habits. We cannot deny that the number is unusually high… sanitation workers function in tough conditions… Some don’t give their correct age, which could explain the high number of deaths before retirement.”
The issue was raised in the Delhi High Court two months ago by Leader of Congress in the South corporation, Abhishek Dutt. Stating that “no one is bothered about these people”, the court had directed civic bodies to inform it about welfare schemes and equipment for sanitation workers. It also ordered authorities to find out illnesses and injuries suffered by workers in their line of work, and provide the data by September 19.
In most cases, families have an uphill struggle after the loss. “My father and two uncles, employed as sanitation workers, died before reaching 60. My father always complained of chest pain,” said Amitabh, a Dakshinpuri resident.
His mother, Channo, who now works as a sanitation worker, said, “We are given masks and gloves only when there is an inspection by senior officials. Otherwise, no one cares.”
Anju, who lives in a JJ cluster near BRT corridor, said her husband Manoj Kumar, a sanitation worker, died at 34. “He died of kidney failure… We spent lakhs on his treatment, mortgaging our house to meet medical expenses.” “Till date, the corporation has failed to give cashless medical cards to safai karamcharis. Many have not been given basic gear such as gloves and gum boots,” Dutt said.
A senior official, however, claimed that they give the equipment but workers do not wear them as they do not find it comfortable. East body commissioner Ranbeer Singh said, “The corporation is not averse to fulfilling demands for better health services and medical cashless facility… Our financial condition does not allow us to do so.”
A North Corporation official said the civic body gives job to relatives of dead employees on compassionate ground but as per rules, they can give permanent jobs to just 5%, while the rest are given temporary jobs.