Work began at 11 am Friday for a group of labourers at a sewage interception project chamber at the Subhash Nagar drain near West Delhi’s Keshopur.
Around 12 pm, one of the men, Devender Sharma, entered the chamber to take measurements of a metal bar screen being repaired inside, meant to separate waste water from floating refuse and transport it to a sewage treatment plant nearby.
Devender was being paid a salary of Rs 13,000 per month, but no safety equipment such as a mask, gloves or boots was given, his brother Ravi Kant alleged.
“He went inside the chamber and within a few minutes, he inhaled toxic gases and started losing consciousness. We threw a rope to pull him up, but his grip loosened. He fainted and dropped on the ground,” Kant alleged.
Police said they are verifying claims of the workers fainting before being swept away by the water.
Shah Rukh Khan, another labourer, went inside to pull out Devender but he too fainted, Kant claimed. He said that a strong flow of water then swept Devender into a waste water pipeline going to the treatment plant. Khan’s hand was caught in iron bars next to the waste water pipeline, preventing his body from being pulled in.
Imran (19), another labourer at the site, threw a ladder into the chamber and rushed to pull Khan out, but he too began losing consciousness and was immediately pulled out by others at the site.
“After I regained consciousness, I saw that a lot of people had gathered around the chamber and were shouting for help, but nobody dared to enter it. The gate of a drain next to the chamber was open and water was entering the chamber through it. A group of us went to a room on top, where two men refused to listen to our request to close the drain gate,” Imran claimed.
Meanwhile, Ankit rushed inside the chamber to bring Khan out, but he too fainted and was pulled into the pipeline, eyewitnesses said.
Khan’s father Shokeen, a farmer, rushed to Delhi from Bulandshahr. He said, “He never spoke about the dangers involved with his work; the contractor should have told the men about it… we don’t want to send our kids away for jobs that endanger their lives, but there are so many mouths to feed.” Shokeen’s other son is also in the same profession.