Thursday, February 19, 2009

Let there be dignity, not death

Thousands of people enter this death trap, almost voluntarily

When it comes to health expenditure, the health ministry goes left, right and center for engulfing a large pie of budgetary allocation. But then not even a fraction of this large pie is allocated for occupational hazards that sweep away thousands of lives every year, if not every month. Under the aegis of unconventional occupation, the sewage workers are the most neglected of them all. This saga of deadly toxic-filled life begins from one's kitchen, toilet and drain and end up taking lives of 22,000 scavengers annually! India, on an average, generates more than 100,000 million litres of sewage per day. It is not rare to find a worker entering a manhole without any safety equipment or proper clothing and thus suffers at large from eye & skin infections, hepatitis and typhoid like ailments. Contrast this with the situation in developed countries, where even the scavengers are treated at par with others and the job with all the right kinds of precautions is as dignified as perhaps any other profession. Sewage workers over there are given bunny suits, respiratory apparatus and proper oxygen supply and are required to clear as many as 15 certifications in order to get on the job. On the contrary, over here this job profile does not even guarantee any sufficient death-on-job compensation or employee insurance. Sample this: the average pay for scavengers in India varies from Rs 1000 - Rs 4000 per month while his counterparts abroad draws around Rs 1 lakh per month. Back home, the life of a manhole worker is imbibed with social-rejection to the extent that even those who are considered castaway in the rigid social strata too would consider the sewage workers as too lowly to talk or live with.

The abysmal attitude of government is not only confined to scavengers but encircles almost all unconventional jobs be it construction, manufacturing, fireworks or even public works. Every year thousands of construction workers end up with work-related injuries. A construction worker literally inhales quintals of fine dust during his lifetime on the job and is rarely provided with dust-masks or safety systems. As per the Ministry of Labour, around 20 fatal accidents beside numerous injuries were recorded in 2008. As per the ILO, deaths due occupation hazards, are increasing by 15% and was around 47,000 in 2003. Having said that, even our ubiquitous traffic police also experience similar predicament. For them air is never without toxic fumes and is the same for those too who work in cremation grounds. Traffic Police across the country are demanding for oxygen devices to offset the effects of pollution. The condition is even worse among miners for whom entering a mining site is like entering a death trap. As per DISHA, around 300 large-scale accidents killing at least 2,000 miners take place every year thanks to sub-standard security measures and lousy attitude of the owners of mines.

This number is much more than deaths due to terror attacks. Even then it is bluntly ignored by authorities. While death of a few hundred in 26/11 made the nation think about security needs, the death of these thousands of workers is quietly swept under the carpet. Why can't India care a little more for those who risk lives to do their job well? Merely having a moon mission or having the capability to make a supercomputer doesn't make a country a developed one. It's rather the use technology to make lives better for the mass that truly is the hallmark of a genuine and a just nation which India is perhaps not yet. But hopefully that day would come when a sewage worker too would walk with head held high.


1 comment:

  1. I think this is a time for budding scientists to innovate the sewerage designs and make them more safe.