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NHRC to Delhi Secy: Explain two sewer workers’ death

The National Human Rights Commission wants the Delhi Chief Secretary to explain deaths of two workers who were trapped in a sewer on June 4.

Written by Krishnadas Rajagopal | New Delhi |
June 11, 2009 12:53:45 am

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) wants the Delhi Chief Secretary to explain deaths of two workers who were trapped in a sewer on June 4.

The top human rights panel issued the notice on Tuesday. A preliminary postmortem report of sewer workers Rajesh,43,and Brahm Prakash,35,suggest they died of asphyxiation caused by poisonous fumes inside a sewer at Maurice Nagar,North Delhi,the NHRC notice points out.

“We want a factual report from the Chief Secretary within four weeks on why prerequisites like safety kits,oxygen masks and cleaning equipment were not provided to these men,” a senior NHRC officer told Newsline on Wednesday. “NHRC will use all its powers as a constitutional authority to bring justice to these workers.”

But the process to give “dignity and rights” to the city’s sewer workers is on for quite some time. Since 2007,the Delhi High Court has been deliberating a PIL highlighting poor work conditions of these cleaners.

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On August 20,2008,a High Court Division Bench led by Chief Justice A P Shah recognised that “working conditions of sewer cleaners defy human dignity and is incompatible and hazardous to their health”. The observations came after a Delhi Government report blamed “work conditions” for 36 sewer workers’ deaths since 2002.

The same day,the High Court issued a “model code of employment”,making private contractors and government agencies like Delhi Jal Board (DJB),DDA,and the MCD equally responsible for workers’ welfare. This meant a monthly ration of bathing soap and oil,free medical examination,oxygen masks and protective gear,identity cards as per Contract Labour Regulations and Rs 1 lakh compensation in case of death on duty.

But the case was back in Chief Justice Shah’s court this April 21. The Bench this time initiated a contempt of court action against the DJB’s CEO and DDA’s vice-chairperson for failing to “protect” sewer workers from poisonous fumes.

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The court also raised the compensation from Rs 1 lakh to Rs 2.5 lakh in case of death.

Senior DDA counsel Ajay Verma today said,“We (DDA) followed the court’s order by depositing Rs 2.5 lakh with the Delhi Legal Services Authority in the name of a worker who died on duty.”

But DJB moved the Supreme Court,which on May 18 stayed the HC order initiating contempt action against senior officials.

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First published on: 11-06-2009 at 12:53:45 am

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