Every time a worker enters a sewage treatment plant (STP) in the capital, he enters a zone that appears to evade scrutiny of every government agency, with each passing the buck when a death happens. In the absence of any accountability, private firms and contractors are virtually operating these plants without any oversight.
A day after poisonous fumes snuffed out five young lives in an STP inside DLF Capital Greens in west Delhi, three government agencies — the labour department, Delhi Jal Board (DJB) and the municipal corporation — suggested they had no role in ensuring the safety of such private workers.
During the day, Delhi Labour Minister Gopal Rai ordered a “fact-finding enquiry” into the case, directing the labour commissioner to submit a report within three days, “so as to decide the further course of action against the defaulting agencies/ firms by the government”.
Rai said that while police will probe the safety aspect, his department will look into whether the rights of the workers were being violated or not as the “private firm was a registered one”.
However, multiple labour department officials said that the probe will only ascertain whether the workers were under social safety nets like ESI or if they were being paid minimum wages.
On being pressed if the department’s job was not to ensure safety of workers as well, a senior official simply said that it was not possible “considering the scale of the issue”. “In any case, the plant comes under the MCDs or the DJB. It is not a factory that the department will have any say,” the official said.
When contacted, DJB vice-chairman Dinesh Mohaniya said, “Neither the STP, not the system or lines fall under us. We have no control over them. For a private builder, plans are passed at the time of construction by the MCD. There ideally should be a body that controls these things.”
Mayor of the North civic body Aadesh Gupta, when contacted, said, “I visited the site along with Chief Secretary Anshu Prakash, area councillor and members of the Safai Karamchari Aayog on Monday. The area is under the jurisdiction of the DJB and Delhi government.”
Delhi Social Welfare Minister Rajendra Pal Gautam, who has held the water portfolio in the past, said the contractors are supposed to inform the DJB or MCDs before undertaking any such STP cleaning, which was allegedly “not done in this case”.
Under the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, the use of men for cleaning of sewers and septic tanks was recognised as manual scavenging. The Act states that no person, local authority or agency shall employ, either directly or indirectly, any person for hazardous cleaning of a sewer or a septic tank.
“It shall be the duty of every local authority and other agency to use appropriate technological appliances for cleaning of sewers, septic tanks and other spaces within their control,” it states, identifying hazardous cleaning in relation to a sewer and septic tank as any kind of manual cleaning without protective gear and mechanical cleaning devices.