COVID-19: Deaths of 6 Chennai sanitation workers unrecorded, no solatium for families

Because the deaths are not recorded by the Chennai Corporation, the families of the six workers are ineligible for the Rs 50 lakh compensation and job for an immediate family member.
Sanitation work by Chennai Corporation
Sanitation work by Chennai Corporation
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Saravanan’s* family still survives on the provisions he bought a few days before his death. The 45-year-old sanitation worker developed breathlessness on June 4 and gave his swab test at a private lab for testing. On June 6, his test results came back positive and on June 11 he breathed his last at the Omandurar Government Hospital in Chennai.

Saravanan’s wife Sankari*, who is a homemaker, and her two daughters are hoping that the Chennai City Corporation will provide a job to her or the elder daughter to help them tide over the circumstances in Saravanan's absence.

Like Saravanan, five other sanitation workers of the Greater Chennai Corporation have succumbed allegedly due to coronavirus. However, not even one death has been recorded as a coronavirus death, allege Corporation workers.

In a letter to the Chennai Corporation on June 18, the Madras Corporation Red Flag Union said, “We request the Corporation to facilitate the disbursal of Rs 50 lakh aid announced by the Chennai Corporation to the workers of Greater Chennai Corporation who contracted the infection during the work.”

The letter mentions the names of four sanitation workers who died of COVID-19, and TNM has been told that one more worker died after June 18, and the union has also come to know of a sixth death.

The six people who succumbed to the virus are a malaria contract worker, a permanent woman sanitary staff member, a permanent male sanitary staff member, two permanent electricians and a permanent Storm Water Drain (SWD) worker.

The hospital details of the patients show that they tested positive for the coronavirus while they were on duty.

Though Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami had on April 22 announced a solatium of Rs 50 lakh and job to the kin of frontline workers in case they contract the infection and die during duty, this solatium has not been extended to any of the six families, as their names have not been added to the Corporation’s list of deaths.

The CM had also said that Rs 2 lakh will be given to any worker who contracts the virus. However, till now many COVID-19 infected workers have not received the compensation, allege workers.

Saravanan’s elder daughter, the first graduate of the family, was waiting to receive her degree in her parents’ presence. But all her dreams have been shattered due to the pandemic.

Sankari, recalling her husband, said, “I told him many times to stay at home and take medical leave. But he used to fight with me to go to work. He loved his job very much, so he'd tell me we should not think about the virus, we should go serve the people. But I never thought he'd leave us like this. I could not even have a last proper look at his face.”

A relative of the family told TNM that the government should provide relief immediately. “He contracted the virus and died during duty. So, we asked the Corporation for compensation and a job for a family member. However, they told us that the Government Order has not been issued yet and they cannot provide the relief.”

Another sanitary worker, a 45-year-old man and the lone earning member of his family, died of coronavirus at Stanley Medical College Hospital on May 9. He is survived by his wife and two sons.

“My husband would go to work without taking leave. He worked for the welfare of the people. But now my sons and I are like orphans with no help,” said Devanayaki*, his wife.

“I informed the officials who took him to Stanley Hospital but he succumbed without responding to treatment. Where will I go now and what will I do? I need to educate my children but I don't even have food to give them. I need the support and money given by the Corporation. If this is the situation for a Corporation worker’s family, I don't know how bad the situation is for other families,” she added.

An insider in the Corporation told TNM that when they approached the authorities they were told to collect details about the deaths. “We asked the Chennai Corporation officials to record the deaths and disburse the funds. But they told us to provide information on the hospitalisation and test results. So we started collecting the information, so far we have received the records of six persons who died of coronavirus. However, these details don't cover the deaths recorded in the districts. The number of deaths may go up and we're planning ways to collect the details online,” said the insider.

TNM has reached out to Greater Chennai Corporation officials for comment and this story will be updated once there is a response. 

*Names changed to protect identity

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