MUMBAI: The high death rate among conservancy employees working for the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation continues. In six months (from April to September 2007), 122 conservancy workers died, according to statistics provided by the corporation's solid waste management departmentâ€”that's around two deaths every three days.
As per the statistics in the RTI application, 288 of Mumbai's safai karamcharis or conservancy workers died in 2004-05, 246 in 2005-06, and 247 in 2006-2007 till April. So the figure is on the rise. According to the BMC, the average age of an employee at the time of death was 50, but it has declined to give the cause of death saying the medical cause is not recorded in the death certificate.
Activist Kewal Semlani, who unearthed the latest statistics resorting to an application under the Right to Information Act, has now moved the Bombay high court to convert the existing public interest litigation on the issue into a criminal writ petition. On Wednesday, a division bench of Justice J N Patel and Justice Nishita Mhatre asked Semlani to move his application before a bench headed by Chief Justice Swatanter Kumar.
In his application, Semlani claimed that the high rate of deaths is a blatant case of 'criminal negligence' in providing workers involved in hazardous jobs safety gear and security; he has sought the registering of cases against BMC officials. In case the court agrees, it would pave the way for the BMC officials to be booked under sections of the Indian Penal Code that deals with causing death due to negligence.
What is more worrying is the fact that these 122 deaths are only among conservancy workers who sweep the streets, and form only a part of the solid waste management department's 22,000-strong work force involved in cleaning the city. In addition to conservancy workers, there are sewerage workers who clean manholes, storm water drain workers, bio-medical waste workers and morgue staff.
"It is unknown how many employees of the BMC SWM department involved in equally hazardous work die due to lack of safety measures," said Semlani, who is part of a three-member committee set up by the HC to look into the condition of conservancy workers.
Earlier this year, a TOI report on December 6, 2006, highlighting the death of 25 conservancy workers per month, had been converted suo motu into a writ petition by the HC. Despite an annual budget to the tune of several hundred crores, according to the petition, proper safety and protective gear were not provided to conservancy staff leading to them contracting various infectious diseases and skin ailments.