Monday, September 12, 2016

Delhi’s workforce hit by dengue and chikungunya, migrants leave

THE flu outbreak this season has hit the national capital’s primary labour force hard. The Defence Colony flyover in south Delhi, which has been undergoing renovation work since May, has missed two deadlines so far, the last by a month after 140 workers, most of them migrants, employed by the PWD shrunk to half.
They were forced to leave the capital and seek cheaper medical treatment and care back home when they fell prey to debilitating vector-borne diseases this season, including dengue and chikungunya.

And it’s not just south Delhi — factories in the industrial hub of Mayapuri, and even the city’s sanitation work force, have been severely hit. Sunil Kumar Jain, PWD Deputy Project Manager overlooking repair works of bridges and flyovers in Delhi, said, “All works undertaken by the PWD have been hit by a 30 per cent drop in availability of workers due to viral fevers, and suspected or confirmed cases of dengue and chikungunya this season. We were supposed to open the Defence Colony flyover by August 15. But the monsoons set in and the diseases began spreading. We have revised the date of completion to September 22.”

PWD and Health Minister Satyender Jain, however, has claimed that work has not been affected. “The PWD is facing no shortage of workers right now and no work has been affected,” he said, during a special session of the Delhi Assembly on Friday. But Jain’s department says otherwise. Sources in the PWD said work had stalled on the ageing Defence Colony flyover, a foot-overbridge at the Old Nizamuddin railway station and an elevated road above the Najafgarh sewer. Maintenance work on roads like the Barapullah phase II and III, the G T Karnal bypass and other such key thoroughfares has also been hit.

According to the latest health figures in Delhi, there were 771 cases of dengue, 560 cases of chikungunya and 19 cases of malaria. So far, municipal corporation data shows close to 90,000 blood slides have been tested this season. Pradeep and Deepak, both contractual workers from Kannauj in UP, have been living under the Defence Colony flyover by an open sewer line, among rusted expansion joints and scrap metal from the renovation, and rusted iron scaffolding tucked away for use in PWD repair works. 

Drums full of water for their use, garbage, slush, tarpaulin and aluminium sheets stitched into fanless makeshift bedrooms and the occasional pan of neem leaves smoked with burning coal to drive away mosquitoes make up the camp housing workers employed by the PWD.

“Our contractor who brought us to Delhi to work on the flyover forced us to live under the flyover so that we do not waste time travelling to work. We were over a 100 when we started. Now, 70 have left for home because the medical fees and blood tests prescribed by doctors here cost too much, and there is no way one can recuperate under a flyover. The rest of the workers sleep on the flank of the flyover under repair and closed to traffic to escape the mosquitoes because it windy there at night,” said Pradeep, adding that he is also down with a slight fever.

Nearly 17 km away, factory number B-151 in West Delhi’s Mayapuri industrial area has seen 15 of the 40 workers it employs to construct walls of refrigeration units fall sick this week. In fact, factory owners in Mayapuri, which houses roughly 1,800 small factory units manufacturing motor parts, textiles and machine parts, have witnessed a 20 per cent dip in production and profits because workers have been calling in sick. Devinder Singh, president of the Mayapuri Industrial Welfare Association, said, “Roughly 20 per cent of the workforce is ill and it has had a direct impact on production and profits. Mayapuri is dirty, with bad roads and acute water-logging problems. So workers living here get affected.”

At least one person in every family is down with fever and joint pain in Mayapuri, which has over 2,000 tenements built on a 2-km stretch along a railway line, workers said. Raju, a 40-year-old factory worker, said, “I have been away from the factory since Monday because of this fever. My wife is down with chikungunya. I paid Rs 4,000 in blood tests, medicines and visits to a private doctor. I do not have an ESI card because I am a daily wage labourer. So the number of days I stay away from work, that much money I lose.”

Dr Parmanand, one of the two general physicians at the government dispensary in Mayapuri, said, “We have been seeing roughly 650 patients every day and one in every two patients is coming in with complaints of fever and weakness. We refer most of the patients to the main hospital in Rajender Nagar since we do not have lab facilities here. Besides the main hospital, there are 32 such dispensaries across Delhi.” At the eastern end of the national capital, across the Yamuna, thousands of sanitation workers or safai karamcharis, have been affected by vector-borne diseases not only because they live in squalid housing but also because of the nature of work.

“We work at garbage dumps and drains in wards in Mayur Vihar that are breeding grounds for insects. We are given no gloves or masks or boots. My husband, my daughter and I are all down with fever and body ache,” said Lakshmi, a safai karamchari employed with the East Delhi Municipal Corporation (EDMC), which engages 25,000 such workers. Sanjay Gehlot, president of Swatantra Mazdoor Vikas Sanyukt Morcha, Delhi’s major safai karamchari union, said that roughly 7,000 workers of the 25,000 employed by the EDMC were down with fever and suspected cases of dengue, malaria or chikungunya. “Of the 7,000 people ill, only roughly one-tenth have stayed away to recuperate. The others have been going to work because they cannot afford to lose wages,” he said.

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