Co-workers of the 35-year-old sanitation worker who died after inhaling toxic fumes while cleaning a drain alleged they were forced to go inside the manhole by the site supervisor, said police. Investigation also found that the men were offered Rs 300 each for the job and promised safety gear — which they were never given.
The incident took place in North West Delhi’s Shakurpur Saturday. Police arrested two men, Public Works Department (PWD) contractor Rajkumar (27) and private supervisor Babloo Ram (25).
DCP (North West) Vijayanta Arya said the men were contractual workers with the PWD and were pressed into service by the department to clean the drain which falls under its jurisdiction.
Police said the Delhi Fire Services and locals helped rescue the workers. Ashok, who first entered the drain, was declared dead on arrival. Police said Rohit (30) is critical and was referred to Safdarjung Hospital Sunday. The other two workers, Sai (50) and Gorelal (35), received minor injuries and have been discharged.
Police said the accused supervisor, Babloo, has been working with the men for five years. While Ashok’s co-workers usually did odd jobs, he mostly worked on maintenance of roads. This was his second time cleaning a sewer, which proved to be fatal, said police.
The men begun working on the drain on Thursday and had noticed the fumes, added police.
Gorelal, in his complaint, alleged that he asked for safety equipment but Babloo did not give them anything: “Babloo assured us we would get masks and shoes for the job… When we asked for the safety gear after reaching the spot, he told us we wouldn’t need it. When I insisted, he threatened us and said he wouldn’t pay us for the previous job if we didn’t clean the drain.”
An officer said: “The victim wasn’t aware of the equipment required to clean the manhole and, hence, went in first wearing just a jacket.”
Police said Rohit followed Ashok into the drain. When the men didn’t come out, Sai climbed down to help them. “All three got stuck inside. I immediately informed Rajkumar and Babloo but Rajkumar fled the spot,” alleged Gorelal.
Meanwhile, police are trying to trace the families of Ashok and Rohit who live in Madhya Pradesh. “We have uploaded their details, along with their pictures, on the Zonal Integrated Police Network and also sent teams to their villages to contact their families. Nobody has come forward to claim Ashok’s body. We received information that the victim and his co-workers left their homes 25 years ago.”
Meanwhile, hitting out at Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan visited the hospital Sunday and told doctors to ensure the worker gets the best possible treatment.
On Saturday, Leader of Opposition Vijender Gupta had claimed he was prevented by authorities from entering the hospital. Delhi PWD Minister Satyendar Jain has ordered an enquiry into the incident.