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Ground Report: ‘The Contractor Denied His Request for Safety Gear’: Kishan Lal Died Cleaning a Sewer in Delhi, Leaving Behind a Family of Five

Promised a job and compensation, the family is now running pillar to post for availing both.

On January 20, 2019, Indu Devi’s life changed forever. She now worries for the future of her children and for her ageing mother. “He had gone to clean the sewer that day. Everyday, he would return home in the afternoon for lunch, but not that day. Before he descended into the drain, he had asked the contractor for safety gear. The contractor had told him ‘you’ll get it later, just go without it now.'”

Sewer deaths
Dinesh, Nandini and Kamlesh

Indu Devi’s husband, Kishan Lal, died while cleaning a sewer in Delhi’s Wazirabad area. He was thirty-seven-years old. The work was being carried out by the Municipal Corporation of Delhi. Kishan was the sole breadwinner for his wife, his elderly mother-in-law and his three children — Dinesh (15), Nandini (13) and Kamlesh (10). 

Sewer death
Kishan Lal

“There were four others with Kishan on that day. Two men had descended into the sewer before him and had returned. But when Kishan didn’t return, the others called out to him. However, there was no answer. The contractor fled the scene. I was informed over the phone. Then a neighbour of ours, Dileep, reached there and entered the sewer to find Kishan. He then called 100.”

Dileep also works as a sanitation worker and lives in the slum near the Gopalganj CNG pump in Wazirabad.

“After Kishan died, I don’t clean sewers. Now, we clean only open drains and don’t go too deep in the water. We’re given a jacket and a safety belt to prevent us from drowning,” said Dileep.

Also Read:  Ground Report: What Does a Day in the Life of a Sanitation Worker in Delhi Really Look Like?

Sixty-year-old Meera Devi, Kishan’s mother-in-law, said, “The contractor had sent Kishan inside the sewer with a torch. When he didn’t return, the contractor fled. Kishan used to earn a daily wage of Rs 300-400. The contractor denied his request for safety gear. Kishan was cleaning the sewer with his bare hands in the underground pipe.”

Sewer deaths
Meera Devi shows the jhaalar that the family makes to support themselves.

A life of hardship

Meera Devi explains the financial hardships that the family is facing. “It has become very difficult to meet household expenses. After Kishan’s death, my other daughter brings us everyday ration. The only earning member of the family is gone.”

She makes decoration items for a nearby factory, which brings in a meagre income. “We get paid Rs 15 for one jhaalar. It takes a lot of time and effort to make these. The entire family is able to make only three to four of these a day.”

Indu Devi and her mother have two shanties. After Kishan’s death, they’ve rented one out, which fetches them Rs 2,000 a month. Now, all five of them have to live in one small shanty.

Sewer deaths

Family was promised compensation and a job, now running pillar to post for both

Kishan’s death occurred on the heels of the Lok Sabha elections. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) blamed the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government in Delhi for Kishan’s death; Delhi Congress chief Sheila Dixit paid a visit to the family and offered financial aid; Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal announced a compensation of Rs 10 lakh and a job to one member of the family.

Indu Devi says that the compensation amount has been deposited to her account but she’s unable to withdraw any of it. “It is the joint account I had with Kishan. I can make withdrawals only after I submit his death certificate,” she said, adding that she is trying to get his death certificate issued.

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Regarding the promise of a job, she said that she was asked to come to Arvind Kejriwal’s office three days after Kishan died. “But I couldn’t go because we had travelled to our village (in Chhattisgarh) with Kishan’s body, to complete the last rites. After returning, I went to his office in February.”

Sewer deaths
Indu Devi and her son Dinesh, outside their home.

She adds that an employee at the office asked her to write a letter and to come back after the elections. “I haven’t been able to go there after the elections. I’m alone and do not understand these matters. A few people come here to teach our children for free, I have asked them for help. When they have time, that is when I will go.”

About the criminal case following her husband’s death, she says, “The matter is in the labour court now. The accused contractor is out on bail. We’ve been to the court many times. The proceedings are on, who knows where this will go.”

Sewer deaths
A copy of the FIR
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