A publication titled “Safe worker? Or Safer Workplace”, highlighting problems faced by sewage workers in different places in Delhi was released by Hazards Centre here on Thursday.

The report was launched at a press conference which was addressed by Dunu Roy of Hazards Centre, Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad assistant professor Navdeep Mathur and National Campaign on Dignity and Rights of Sewerage and Allied Workers convener H. P. Mishra.

Based on a study undertaken by School of Environmental Studies student Sarika Singh in 2007, the report focuses on identifying causes of blockage and sewage system problems affecting workers and evaluating present working conditions, occupational health and safety status of the sewerage workers in Delhi.

Referring to the Gujarat High Court judgment of 2006 which laid down directions related to sewerage and manhole workers, Hazards Centre said it did not provide remedies for hazards at the workplace. The report states that many sewerage workers suffer from acute and chronic diseases due to direct exposure and most die before retirement age.

In spite of the judgment, Mr. Mishra said, things have not changed much for the workers in the past four years with many deaths going unreported each year. Most of the workers engaged in drainage cleaning, he said, were from the Valmiki Dalit community and faced caste-based discrimination.

Prof. Mathur, who undertook a survey on sewerage workers with his students in Ahmedabad, concurred: “These workers are not being integrated into mainstream society… even very young children who are sent to schools face discrimination.”

The survey found that child labour, inability to access banking institutions and a desire to move out of the profession were recurring problems faced by families of sewerage workers.

The judgment had asked civic bodies to make use of adequate equipment for cleaning and providing sufficient safety gear for manhole workers. “These machines cannot be used in narrow lanes or to remove all kinds of materials,” said Mr. Roy. Besides civic bodies seldom made use of available machines due to lack of proper training, according to the Hazards Centre report.

Another problem, according to the speakers, was that the number of sewerage workers had decreased in the past few years while city population had increased throughout the country. Mr. Mishra suggested carrying out a survey on sewerage workers by government and developing a feasible model to improve their conditions.

Keywords: Hazards Centre

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