When justice and fair play go down the drain | Pakistan Today

When justice and fair play go down the drain

While monsoon is considered a blessing by many, it comes as a death warrant for those who are assigned to clean the city’s choked gutters.
Before and during the monsoon, many people who work in sewers meet a tragic end during the course of their work. Most of the people who work in these terrible conditions are Christians. Lack of equipment, insufficient training and negative attitude of authorities towards these workers are the reason why these men work in such perilous conditions. Many people are unwilling to talk about these problems including the members of the civil society – let alone the concerned authorities.
“I am Christian by faith and I work in the sewers. I am a daily wager for City District Government, Lahore. Every year I see members of my community dying of inhaling poisonous gas the process of de-silting the chocked gutter,” said a 40 year old man. “I expect to meet the same fate. In terms of proportion, ratio of Christian and Muslim working in the sewers is 60 percent to 40 percent but I hardly hear a work order for a Muslim worker.”
TOO MANY DEATHS: Last week, a man named Darshan Masih, a daily wager of Water and Sanitation Agency (WASA), went deep down into the gutter in Qalandar Pura, Harbanspura and suffocated to death because of the poisonous gas. His colleague, George Masih, tried to rescue him but failed to save his life. Later, George fell unconscious and was hospitalised. Unsurprisingly, this death also went unnoticed.
WASA Managing Director Muhammad Abdullah said he would ask the chief minister to announce some compensation to the victim’s family as only regular employees were entitled to have financial reward in case of death during at work.
WASA official Naveed Ahmed said that Darshan Masih was asphyxiated while cleaning a choked sewer without a mask or an oxygen cylinder.
“This isn’t the only case of this kind. Every year, several such incidents are reported and the main reason behind these unnoticed tragedies is lack of equipment and training,” he added.
He said that three people had died due to poisonous gas while cleaning a gutter in January. They were trying to clean a chocked gutter between Sheedi Village and London Town in Saharish Nagar area. Dhani Baksh, 40, entered the gutter to clean it and when he did not come out, his 17-year-old son Zafar Abbas and two neighbours Muzafar Jafferi and Sanaullah also enter the gutter. However, they too fell unconscious due to poisonous gutter gas. Later, Edhi volunteers and police were summoned, who recovered and rushed them to hospital where all three died.
According to a report, over 70 Christian sanitary workers have died since 1988 because of inhaling toxic gas while cleaning the sewers. Most Christian sanitary workers said that they were discriminated against by their Muslim co-workers, who did not indulge in any sanitation work, even after recruitment. The Minority Rights Commission (MRC), in a report titled ‘Working Conditions of Sanitary Workers and Sewer men in Lahore’, said that since 1988, the WASA management had changed nine times, each promising to change the situation but to no avail. Per statistics, sewer man Skindar Masih died due to inhaling toxic gas in March. He was buried at a Christian graveyard. Convener World Minorities Alliance J Salik had strongly protested against Skindsar Masih’s tragic death, demanding provision of safety equipment to sanitation workers and payment of adequate compensation to the family.
Two sewer men were suffocated to death shortly after they entered a gutter to clear the silt at Badian Road in May. Sewer men, identified as Asif Masih and Ghulam Masih entered the gutter near Jammu bus stop at Badian Road. They tried to come out of the gutter due to the poisonous gas but failed.
LACK OF EQUIPMENT, TRAINING: Haider Masih said that sewer men constantly worked under the shadow of death. “In the absence of oxygen cylinders, gum boots, torches and uniform, they are forced to work in inhumane conditions and are exposed toxic gases like sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide and hydrogen peroxide inside manholes,” he said. “Often sewer men have to experience itching caused by toxic gases and litter,” he added.
Last year two WASA sewer men died while working in a drain situated opposite a bank located on Upper Mall near Qurban Lines. After the incident, WASA purchased safety equipment worth Rs 25 million but the sewer men did not know how to use them.WASA official Imtiaz Ghori, however, said that the agency had issued new directives to the section concerned asking it to follow the set guidelines for using safety measures to avoid any untoward incident. He said that WASA had already instructed its sewer workers that they should be equipped with safety gadgets while doing their jobs.
“We have more than 50 multi-gas monitors to detect gases including Hydrogen sulphide and Carbon Dioxide, 50 disaster monitors fixed with sewer men to sound an alarm if no movement is detected within 15 minutes. A 30 man winch (machine used to pull out sewer man in emergency), 200 light-fixed helmets, 10 compressors used for oxygen, 30 trolley-fitted breathing machines and masks are the safety equipment we have for our workers,” he added.
WASA has a training centre at Noha Kot near Gulshan Ravi to provide digital age training to sewer men. Experts believe that three types of invisible dangers can be found in sewer manholes or confined spaces which are explosive gases, lack of oxygen and Hydrogen Sulphide gas and unless the workers are not trained, there is a very high chance that they will keep losing their lives.

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