Deprived of rights: Sewer workers in national capital

The sewer workers in the national capital New Delhi who work in the contractual system have been deprived of individual and labor rights, alleges Dalit Adivasi Shakti Adhikar Manch (DASAM), a platform of the Dalits, Adivasis, and their organisations.

A ‘Charter of Reclaim’ was released at a press conference organised by the rights group on Thursday.

The group said they surveyed sewer workers working under contractors in many areas of Delhi.

The sewer workers do not get any kind of safety gear, soap, oil, and they neither have any kind of identity card nor work permit, according to the survey results.

The sewer workers who belong to Dalit and Adivasi groups have been facing caste discrimination at the workplace, it found.

The survey also finds many rights violations the workers face from contractors. The pressure of the contractors is so much that the sewer worker is not able to speak openly to neither the government nor any organization, DASAM alleged.

The survey results state: “If the contractor has a tender contract for six months, he pays wages to the sewer worker only for four months. Even from the wages which are given to the workers, 25%- 35% is deducted by the contractor. The contractor neither gives weekly off nor gives any holiday on government holidays. If he does not go to work on holidays or on medical emergencies, then the money is deducted from the monthly/daily wages.”

The process of benefiting to contractors by deducting exchange values of labor of sewer cleaning workers should be stopped immediately, DASAM leaders said.

The sewer workers told the group that the diseases related to sewer cleaning are long-term and fatal. These come under the category of occupational health disease. But due to the non-availability of the facility of insurance, Employees’ State Insurance, and Provident Fund to the sewer workers, they get deprived of it.

Those sewer or toilet cleaning workers who are working under contractors should be provided with the status of permanent government employees on priority, the group demanded.

DASAM urged the authorities to ensure equal wages for the same work, as per prescribed norms, because the contractors do not pay them full wages.

The government should directly give all the equipment that comes in the safety gear to the sewer workers because the contractors do not provide them with any kind of safety equipment, said the group.

Arrangement of identity cards, work permits, paid weekly holidays and annual festival leaves should be made mandatory for every sewer worker, they demanded. ESI, insurance, and PF facilities should be given to every sewer worker.

The authorities should take the responsibility of preventing exploitation and atrocities based on caste during the work because this work is being done under the concerned unit of the government, Dalit Adivasi Shakti Adhikar Manch has demanded.

The other demands are implementations of provisions of the Factories Act and Workman’s Compensation, the scheme of giving priority to the families of the sewer workers who died and were injured during sewer work, and the provisions of the Public Procurement Policy 2012.

The family members of the deceased and injured sewer workers are constantly getting deprived of rights, the group pointed out.

Delhi government should stop contempt of Gujarat High Court interim order dated 15 February 2006 with immediate effect, the Dalit Adivasi group demanded.

Even after 15 years of the passing of this order, the sewer workers have to plead with the Delhi government for its implementation.

“Sanitation work in sewerage systems of Delhi Jal Board and toilets facilities of Municipal Corporations are of permanent nature. Government should stop the process of these works temporary for sewerage workers through engaging contractors,” read the “Charter of Reclaim.”

DASAM office bearers also told reporters that they met Delhi government authorities and lawmakers in the state several times regarding this issue.

The Delhi MLAs have given an assurance that they will raise the issues in the house during the winter session 2021, the Dalit Adivasi group said.

The press meet was addressed by Sant Ram, president, Jal Mal Kamgaar Sangharsh Morcha, Delhi Jal Board, Ved Prakash Bidla, president, Delhi Jal Board Sewer Department Mazdoor Sangathan, Hemlata Kansotia, national convenor, National Campaign for Dignity and Rights of Sewerage & Allied Workers and Ashok Kumar and Ena Zafar, national coordinators, Dalit Adivasi Shakti Adhikar Manch.