On Sunday evening, two men, both aged 45, died while cleaning a “safety tank” inside a gold chain factory in Northwest Delhi’s GT Karnal Road industrial area. Delhi Police, Delhi Fire Services and relatives of the men alleged they were not equipped with protective gear such as masks, safety belt and boots, and died after inhaling poisonous gases.
The men, Idris and Salim, were cousins, who hailed from UP’s Khurja, and routinely visited Delhi to “collect residue left from cleaning gold in safety tanks of gold factories”. Four other labourers fell sick after inhaling the toxic gas, and were treated and discharged, while one is undergoing treatment. The labourers were being paid Rs 400 a day for the job, said DCP (Northwest) Vijayanta Arya.
She said they received a PCR call at 6.45 pm about three people losing consciousness while cleaning the tank: “The firm manufactures gold chains; chemicals used to clean the ornaments are stored in this tank. The job for cleaning the tank was given by factory owner Rajender Soni (63) to private contractor Pramod Dangi (35). Both have been arrested.”
A case under sections of The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, and IPC sections 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) and 337 (causing hurt by endangering life) has been registered at Adarsh Nagar police station.
Assistant Divisional Officer of DFS, C L Meena, who was one of the firefighters at the spot, said it’s a two-storey factory with a basement and the tank is located on the ground floor: “It must be 15-20 feet deep. The labourers were not given proper safety gear. There was a bamboo staircase on which they stood, they had a tiny bulb hanging inside instead of headlights. First, one labourer fainted inside after inhaling the gases, then another jumped in, he too fainted. We got a distress call. By the time we reached, the workers had removed everyone from the tank except one person.”
Meena said the “smell emanating from the tank was very strong”, and one firefighter jumped in after wearing a breathing apparatus, which comes equipped with an oxygen cylinder, and pulled out the labourer.
“This was not a septic tank with human waste; this was all industrial waste,” he said.
Idris is survived by his wife and their eight-year-old son, while his cousin Salim has five children aged between 10 and 23 years. Their brother Rashid told The Indian Express, “Salim’s daughter is about to get married, that’s why he went to Delhi with Idris for the job. They used to buy residue from cleaning gold, this way tanks also got cleaned… that was their business. The two called us at 4 pm to say they had collected the material… I don’t know why they went back in… At 6 pm, I got a call that they fainted inside. We have lost two main breadwinners… They were not given any safety equipment… We are poor so our life is cheap.”