MCD: Negligence bordering upon criminal carelessness

New Delhi:

Negligence bordering upon criminal carelessness on the part of civic agencies and contractors hired by them led to the death of a labourer in Malviya Nagar on Wednesday — 20-year-old Ashok Kumar fell into a 12-ft sewer which he was digging along with 14 other labourers.

     Forget safety equipment for workers, there was not even a rope at the site to pull him out of the ditch. And precious moments were lost waiting for the fire-fighters to arrive with help.
   Residents of H-7 block said this was not the first time that someone had fallen into the under-construction sewer and hurt himself — as there were no barricades — but that obviously had not served as a wake-up call for the contractor laying the sewer line for the Delhi Jal Board (DJB).

        Said RWA president Satyapal Gulati: ‘‘Ten days ago, a labourer had fallen into the sewer and hurt himself, while another one had injured his eye. No barricades had been put up around the pit to prevent people from coming near the area and no safety equipment had been provided to workers.’’

        Said Ajmer Singh, elder brother of the deceased: ‘‘After the first mishap, we were all scared to work, but the contractor forced us to work. We had no option. Not even a rope was provided to pull my brother out of the pit.’’ The fire brigade arrived an hour after the accident and a rope was provided by them to pull Kumar out. 

        It was only after Kumar’s death that barricades were finally put up around the pit. The police have arrested the contractor, Atam Prakash, for causing death due to negligence. However, the loss of life could have been easily avoided if it wasn’t for apathy of officials concerned.

     Said Gulati: ‘‘We had complained several times to DJB officials about the risks involved in carrying out digging without putting up proper barricades, as anyone could have fallen into the pit. Even earlier, a little boy had fallen into one such pit being dug up by DJB in the area. In that case, the work was at least completed the next day.’’ 

         Said Bhupinder Kaur, a resident: ‘‘I have two small children and I don’t let them play unsupervised, as they might fall into the pit. It is sad that no value is attached to a person’s life. Though we had approached various agecies, nothing was done in terms of precautionary measures.’’
   Even the councillor of the area had apparently alerted the DJB about the risk posed by the open sewer. Said councillor Mudita Gupta: ‘‘After the incident, I tried contacting DJB officials, but to no avail. I even tried getting in touch with them months before, looking at the security risk the open pit posed, but got no response.’’

        Work on the sewer line had begun one and a half months ago after residents of H-8 and H-12 blocks complained of contaminated water flowing out of their taps. The dirty water was causing various ailments among the elderly and children. The DJB had hired a contractor to lay the sewer line. When contacted after the death of the labourer, its officials were quick to pass the buck.

      ‘‘Since the work was contracted out, we are not responsible for providing safety equipment. We have not received any complaints from residents of the area,’’ said a DJB official. 

        As for the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), they were quick to point out that they had not granted permission to DJB to carry out digging in the area.

     On their part, the DJB official said: ‘‘We have not got any formal letter from MCD to carry out work here, but we have paid them about Rs 4 lakh as road and restoration charges. Normally, in cases where the financial implication is not huge, informal permission is taken from MCD.’’

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