All’s not that well in Delhi. With the flu outbreak in the capital, the primary labour force has been hit hard by diseases. Diseases like dengue and chikungunya have enveloped the streets of Delhi in a way that has led to delay in construction on roads, slowdown in industrial work and other delays in public works.
The Defence Colony flyover in South Delhi has been undergoing renovation since May. It missed two deadlines when the employed 140 workers shrunk to half due to the disease. 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 in a conversation with The Indian Express 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.”
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.
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 due to the diseases.
As per the latest health statistics, there have been 771 cases of dengue, 560 of chikyngunya and 19 of malaria. Records from the municipal corportaion data shows that close to 90,000 blood slides have been tested in this season. Atleast one person in each 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, said workers. “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,” said Raju, a 40-year-old factory worker.
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.”
However, taking a different stand on this, PWD and health Minister Satyender Jain claimed that the 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.
Talking about their condition, Pradeep and Deepka, both contractual workers from Kannauj said, “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.
Both of them reside under the Defence Colony flyover by an open sewer line that is further exposed to rusted expansion joints, garbage and slush. And their way of coping with the mosquitoes breeding to such a surrounding is by burning coal and neem leaves.
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.”