A 35-year-old sanitation worker died and three others were injured after they inhaled toxic fumes while cleaning a drain that comes under the Public Works Department (PWD), without any safety gear. The incident took place in North West Delhi’s Shakurpur Saturday, police said.
Police have registered an FIR under IPC Section 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) and 7/9 of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, based on a complaint by one of the workers. Two men, PWD contractor Babloo Ram (25) and private supervisor Rajkumar Lal (27), have been arrested, said a police spokesperson.
Ordering an enquiry into the incident, PWD Minister Satyendar Jain sought a report from the PWD engineer in-chief and announced compensation of Rs 10 lakh for the victim’s family. A separate SDM inquiry has also been initiated.
“The minister visited the men at the hospital and ordered a probe into who called the PWD maintenance van, nature of complaint and how the worker fell into the open drain,” said a government official.
DCP (North West) Vijayanta Arya said five men, who were contractual workers with the PWD, were pressed into service by the department to clean the drain which falls under its jurisdiction.
DCP Arya said the victim has been identified as Ashok (35). The injured have been identified as Rohit (30), who is critical and on ventilator; Sai (50) who is in the ICU but in a stable condition; and Gorelal (35) who has been discharged. The fifth contractual worker, Babli (45), didn’t suffer any injuries.
According to the Delhi Fire Services, they were informed about the incident around 11.30 am and rushed to the spot with a fire tender. A firefighter said, “Three men — Ashok, Sai and Rohit — were stuck inside the manhole due to the poisonous gases. We used ladders and a rope to pull them out. Another worker, Gorelal, was lying injured on the ground. All four were rushed to a nearby hospital, where one of them was declared dead.”
Locals said the men had been working at the spot for the past two days, clearing out sewage. Joginder (28), an eyewitness, said, “I was sitting inside my shop when I heard the workers shouting for help. I went there and saw three men stuck inside the manhole. Ashok was the first one to go in, followed by Rohit and Sai. The other two tried to help them but the gas was so strong that they fainted. By then, the fire department arrived. We managed to pull Sai and Rohit, but Ashok was deep inside. Police and firefighters helped get him out.”
Locals alleged the workers were only equipped with an orange jacket and not given any masks or machines.
Baljeet Mimrot, a businessman, claimed: “The manhole has not been opened for the last two years… After the men started working, a constant foul smell came from the drain. The sewage which was kept aside wasn’t cleaned either.” Another eyewitness, Hemant Kumar, said the area has a gas agency and several shops and claimed waste from these goes into the drains.
While Ashok lived in Budh Vihar, three other workers live together on rent at North West Delhi’s Pooth Kalan. The men hail from Madhya Pradesh. Police said they were unable to contact their relatives.