JIH VP visits Sagar’s family who died in septic tank cleaning incident, demands compensation of Rs. 30 lakh as per SC guidelines

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JIH VP Prof. Mohammed Salim Engineer consoling the family members of Sagar, a housekeeping staff, who died after inhailing poisonous gases after being allegedly forced to clean the mall's septic tank manually, alongwith his collegaue Hare Krishna Prasad. Photo by Syed Khalique Ahmed, India Tomorrow.

By Syed Khalique Ahmed

NEW DELHI—Jamaat-e-Islami Hind (JIH) vice-president Prof. Mohammed Salim Engineer visited the family members of 20-year-old Sagar, one of the two housekeeping workers of D Mall in Rohini, who, alongwith his colleague Hare Krishna Prasad, died after they were allegedly forced to clean the septic tank outside the premises of the mall on May12. The two housekeeping staff of the Mall are among one dozen safai workers who died in the last one month in UP’s NOIDA and Delhi when forced to clean septic tanks and sewers despite a law – The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 – that bans manual scavenging throughout the country.

Meanwhile, an FIR has also been registered at Prashant Vihar Police Station, Rohini, under IPC Section 284 (endangering human life with poisonous substance unintentionally), 337(endangering human life due to negligence or lack of safety to others), 304 A (pertaining to death due to negligence, and not intentionally) and Section 9 of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Act (MS Act), 2013. The FIR has named D Mall’s Maintenance Supervisor Satyanarayan, Facility Manager Gurdeep Singh and Area Manager Amit Dubey in the FIR for forcing the two housekeeping staff to enter the septic tank for its cleaning.

While consoling the family members of Sagar hailing from the Dalit community, Mr Engineer demanded adequate compensation to the family members of the two deceased persons. While Sagar was unmarried and is survived by his parents, two brothers and two sisters, Prasad is survived by his wife and a six year old daughter and other family members. Mr. Engineer is the first only human rights activist who visited the victim’s family to express sympathies with them.

As Sagar’s family has not received any compensation either from the company – Sun Operations and Maintenance Pvt. Ltd – that had employed him and Prasad, and deployed them in the D Mall, Mr Engineer on his own behalf individually gave some money to Sagar’s mother Maya Devi and father Shital Kumar who belonging to Dalit community and are migrants from Khajuraho in district Chitrakoot of Madhya Pradesh.

Sagar’s mother said that the company bore the entire medical expenses on the treatment of Sagar who died during treatment in Balaji Action Hospital, Paschim Vihar, New Delhi, after five days of the incident. The company also paid for the last rites of Sagar’s dead body.

However, she said that neither the company nor the Delhi government has so far paid any compensation or financial assistance to the family who live in a rented accommodation in Shahbad Dairy locality of Rohini and pay monthly rent of Rs. 3000. Sagar’s father in not in a sound mental condition to work due to some ailment and his two brothers also don’t have any regular income. His mother said that it was Sagar only who had regular income and the entire family depended chiefly on him. They have a joint family and supported each other when any of them had any problem or difficulty.

Mother and father of deceased Sagar with Prof. Salim Engineer outside their residence in Shahbad Dairy locality of Rohini Delhi

Sagar had joined the company three years ago at a monthly salary of Rs. 9,000 and was currently receiving Rs. 12,500 per month, much below the minimum monthly wages of Rs. 17,494 applicable in Delhi for unskilled workers, which means Rs. 673 per day. But what Sagar got was Rs. 416 only, only two-third of the minimum wages applicable for unskilled workers in the national capital. This is an indication of exploitation of helpless workers in violation of labour laws under the very nose of the central government.

Speaking to India Tomorrow,Mr. Engineer demanded a compensation of Rs. 30 lakh as decreed by the Supreme Court in its order dated October 20, 2023, in cases of sewer/septic tank deaths. He suggested that this money be recovered from the company whose officials forced the two employees to enter into a five feet deep septic tank without any safety equipment or supervision. According to Sagar’s mother, both workers became unconscious inside the septic tank and were rescued by a passerby who was visiting the mall with his family.

Both of them were immediately taken to Dr B R Ambedkar Hospital in front of the D Mall. While Prasad was declared ‘brought dead’, Sagar was gasping and was shifted to Balaji Action Hospital in Paschim Vihar that has better medical facilities. However, Sagar also died after five days.

Sagar’s mother told Mr Engineer that she and other family members had met the local government officials at Rohini MCD office. The officials gave an assurance that they would be paid compensation. “But I have not received compensation nor any kind of financial assistance either from the company or the government,” she told Mr Engineer. She repeatedly said that Sagar, her youngest son, was very intelligent and talented and the family depended on him for financial support. Sagar’s mother alleged that the company officials were now plotting a story to say that Sagar and Prasad fell into the municipal sewer just outside the mall premises immediately after they lifted the manhole cover, a narrative which seems to be neither plausible nor believable. Even if they lifted the manhole cover, both of them cannot fall into the sewer together. Moreover, if they opened the manhole, they did it on the instructions of the company officials which was totally illegal under the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013. This calls for action for violation of the Act as also for the death of the two persons, al beit, unintentionally.

A woman family member of Prasad told this scribe over phone that the company and the government officials had made a promise to pay Rs. 30 lakh as compensation. She said the company gave a bank cheque of Rs. 10 lakh as part of the compensation which has been deposited in the family’s bank account but the money is yet to be credited into their account. The remainder of the amount is yet to be paid by the company.

Dalit body demands strict action against authorities/individuals hiring people for manual scavenging

Meanwhile, Dalit Adivasi Shakti Adhar Manch (DASAM) secretary Sanjeev Kumar has demanded a compensation of Rs. 30 lakh to each of the families of the two victims and strict action against the hiring agency and the principal employer.

Kumar said that while the FIR has held the housekeeping company liable for the incident, but “it is equally important that the principal employer who outsources the cleaning work to a private company also ensures that the company does not indulge in unlawful activities.”

DASAM leader suggested that “in cases where outsourced agencies are involved, it is important to have more clarity on who constitutes the ‘principal employer,’” and who can be held responsible in case of such incidents.

Kumar said the practice of manual scavenging would continue until a strong action is taken against the hiring authorities/individuals.

He also suggested for a “massive wall-writing by municipalities and government bodies, that spread the message that households, companies and contractors cannot summon anybody, at their discretion, to clean sewers or septic tanks, lest they lose their license, and must contact the official authorities, such as the Delhi Jal Board, that’s responsible and liable for sewer and sewer-work in the area.”

He said that one of the main reasons contribute to the continuation of the practice is the lack of awareness about what constitutes manual scavenging, and which authorities to approach for hazardous sanitation work.

Kumar also expressed the need to organise camps, in collaboration with urban local bodies, to sensitize Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs), private complexes and malls, as well as the local police to sensitize people about the dangers to life involved in manual scavenging.

He also suggested for a government campaign through newspapers, billboards, etc. to make informal and daily wage workers aware of the hazardous nature of any form of manual scavenging, including unprotected sewer/septic tank cleaning.

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