On 28 June, three workers died in a drain while working on an interceptor sewage project of the Delhi Jal Board, in West Delhi. The DJB is the primary authority responsible for the capital’s sewage system. A couple of weeks after the incident, the DJB organised a workshop for sewer workers in Delhi’s Talkatora stadium. At the event, Arvind Kejriwal, the chief minister of Delhi who is also the chairperson of the DJB, announced that the government would provide safety gears to sewer cleaners. “Please do not be careless. You all are being given safety gear for free,” he said. “I hope and trust that we do not hear any sewer deaths at least in Delhi in future.”
The chief minister failed to answer—or even question—why the practice of manual scavenging, and sewage cleaning without protective gear, both outlawed across the country, was still taking place in the national capital. Instead, he focussed on the supposed carelessness of the deceased worker.
Delhi produces around 10,000 metric tonnes of waste daily and the burden of disposing it off is borne by the manual scavengers and sewage workers of the capital, who are predominantly from the Valmiki community—a Dalit sub-caste. According to the National Commission for Safai Karamcharis, a statutory body for the welfare of sanitation workers, 38 people have died while cleaning sewers in Delhi in the past two years. The negligence of the state government’s bodies, the Public Works Department and the DJB, was a contributing factor in some of these deaths.