scorecardresearch
Follow Us:
Saturday, May 21, 2022

Another accident at a sewer line in Delhi bares hazardous nature of sanitation work. And the abdications of employers

There is no doubt that accountability must be fixed. But for far too long, employers have paid short shrift to the dignity of workers at sanitation sites. It’s high time this fundamental problem is addressed.

By: Editorial |
Updated: April 1, 2022 9:19:35 am
The NHRC has asked the Delhi government, the city’s police commissioner and the chairman of the MTNL to submit a “detailed report” on the incident within four weeks.

On Tuesday, sewer lines claimed four more lives in the city. Though the victims in northwest Delhi were not sanitation sector employees, the incident speaks of the many abdications that have imperilled work at sanitation sites in the country. Three telephone linesmen accidentally fell into an open septic pit below the overhead wires they were repairing. Much like the 340-odd sanitation workers, who according to government data, died while working at sewers and septic tanks between 2016 and 2020, the victims of Tuesday’s mishap were failed by their employers. They were not shielded by the protective gear mandated for such hazardous work by the safety laws of the country. An autorickshaw driver who jumped into the toxic cesspool to rescue the linesmen, was the fourth victim. The entangled wires and noxious gases in the pit that hobbled the rescue mission, are testimony to the unsafe working conditions at sewer lines that take a toll all too frequently.

Amongst the first important steps taken by Prime Minister Narendra Modi after he assumed office in 2014 was to end the culture of silence on matters related to sanitation. Unfortunately, however, the zeal that led to the accomplishment of most of the goals of the first phase of the Swachh Bharat Mission hasn’t translated into meaningful improvement in the working conditions of those who plumb sewage pits. Some local government agencies, including the Delhi Jal Board, did provide safety kits to the sewer cleaners and attempted to mechanise septic tank cleaning. Last year, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) advised that sanitary workers should be treated as “frontline health workers for all purposes” and called for fixing responsibility for deaths at sanitation sites. However, municipalities and government agencies continue to subcontract work at sanitation sites to private contractors, many of whom are fly-by-night-operators, who do not maintain proper rolls of their employees. The intertwining of work at sanitation sites with caste and the desperate poverty of some of the workers makes the problem even more intractable.

The NHRC has asked the Delhi government, the city’s police commissioner and the chairman of the MTNL to submit a “detailed report” on the incident within four weeks. It has demanded action against the responsible officers. There is no doubt that accountability must be fixed. But for far too long, employers have paid short shrift to the dignity of workers at sanitation sites. It’s high time this fundamental problem is addressed.

This editorial first appeared in the print edition on April 1, 2022 under the title ‘Unacceptable toll’.

Best of Express Premium

Mehbooba Mufti interview: ‘Of course PDP is going to fight election...Premium
Why is NCP chief Sharad Pawar meeting Brahmin community leaders in Pune t...Premium
The first stop for Azam, son out of jail was this SP leader’s housePremium
Abhinav Prakash Singh writes: At stake in Gyanvapi, the hopes of a civili...Premium

For all the latest Opinion News, download Indian Express App.

  • Newsguard
  • The Indian Express website has been rated GREEN for its credibility and trustworthiness by Newsguard, a global service that rates news sources for their journalistic standards.
  • Newsguard
0 Comment(s) *
* The moderation of comments is automated and not cleared manually by indianexpress.com.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement