Delhi: An everyday struggle for these workers under the sun

For several workers in the Capital, staying away from the sun is not an option. Despite the oppressive heat, heat warriors are still out, keeping Delhi running. HT profiles some of these people
Ram Lakhan Singh, a parking attendant, at Connaught Place on Monday. (Arvind Yadav/HT) PREMIUM
Ram Lakhan Singh, a parking attendant, at Connaught Place on Monday. (Arvind Yadav/HT)
Updated on May 17, 2022 12:16 PM IST
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At a time when the torrid heat in the Capital has confined most people indoors, there are some who are still out in the sun to keep Delhi running even in the middle of an unforgiving heatwave.

The maximum temperature in parts of the city crossed an unprecedented 49 degrees Celsius (°C) on Sunday. It was also the hottest day of the year so far at Safdarjung, the base weather station for Delhi, which recorded a maximum of 45.6°C, five degrees above normal for this time of the year.

The last time Delhi experienced a higher maximum temperature in this month was on May 28, 2020, when it was 45.9°C degrees at Safdarjung.

Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) data over the last week shows that almost all of Delhi’s weather stations have been recording temperatures higher than the city’s official maximum (at Safdarjung), and experts say that a majority of the people in the Capital could be experiencing much higher maximum temperatures than what is being reported as the official marker of the city.

Despite all this, daily wage workers, sanitation staff, traffic police personnel, delivery service executives, parking attendants, and street vendors are still working — often spending hours in the sun often without a break. HT profiles some of these heat warriors.

On whom heat takes a toll(HT)
On whom heat takes a toll(HT)

Name: Gopal Mandal

Occupation: Construction worker

Gopal Mandal came to Delhi from Araria, Bihar nearly two decades ago. Over these years, he has worked at several construction sites in the city. Mandal says it has become particularly difficult to work in the open these days, adding that he has never felt this hot during all his time in Delhi.

He says it’s no longer possible for him to work beyond five hours, because it leaves him dazed. “We cover our heads with a cloth, and have to take constant breaks to drink water after every hour or so, since we start feeling dizzy. But you also cannot rest for long as there are deadlines,” he says.

Mandal is also not being able to eat enough, and uses whatever break he gets to rest in the shade. “In the heat, you cannot eat too much and with the amount of water one is constantly drinking, it becomes difficult to eat too. We don’t take food breaks, but take time out to find shade and close our eyes.”

When told about the record temperature in Delhi on Sunday, Mandal says it’s just a number for the record books. “For people like us, it is as hot as it feels. We pour a bottle of water over our heads, wrap a cloth back around our head and resume work. That is all one can do!”

Name: Rajkumar Singh

Occupation: Roadside sanitation worker

As vehicles raced past the busy stretch near Mukarba Chowk in north Delhi, Rajkumar Singh is placing bright orange traffic cones on one side of the road in order to carry out roadside maintenance. He, along with a group of 5-10 other men, then quickly switch over to brooms and shovels, scooping away the dust accumulated on the sides of the road. Throughout this intense summer, Singh is out on the streets, sweeping away dust as a member of the city’s sanitation and maintenance staff.

He says he stays out till 5pm, with nothing but a helmet to protect him from the sun.

“The ideal time to sweep is from around 9am up to noon, but after that, the heat becomes unbearable and we keep large cans of water for the entire group. Breaks are used mostly for drinking water and find some shade,” he says, adding that he was paid 500 for a day’s work.

Taking a day off is out of question since he has to support his family in Bihar. “Every day’s wage counts. Summers are usually harsh, but we have never seen such an intense heat,” says Singh, adding that he’s feeling exhausted much faster this summer than he did in previous years.

Name: Ram Lakhan Singh

Occupation: Parking attendant

Between 9am and 9pm, 37-year-old Ram Lakhan Singh is busy ensuring cars slot in to in the right spots at Connaught Place’s C-block, but by the time he reaches home in Noida’s Sector 62 at 10pm, he is bushed.

He first has a bath for about half an hour, and then his only substantial meal of the day. Then, he just falls asleep. This heat, he says, saps all the energy out of him — and even multiple breaks during the day to catch his breath don’t really help in this heat.

“It is a busy job, one that keeps you on your toes and you have to constantly move after cars and ensure they find the right parking spot or are not blocking another vehicle. In this heat, the afternoon time becomes more challenging as you are exposed to the direct sun for hours at a stretch. I have to refill my 1-litre water bottle at least five to six times a day,” Singh says.

Singh shows how the skin on his arms, which are exposed to the direct sun, has become dry and flaky. “It itches and I have to constantly pour water on my arms and head to stay cool. We keep trying to taking breaks in between so that no attendant falls sick.”

Name: Seema Rani

Occupation: Traffic police constable

By 8am, Seema Rani is out on Delhi’s busy roads, coordinating peak-time traffic. However, as the day progresses and the temperature goes up, it becomes difficult for her to stay on the road.

Deployed near Badarpur, Rani says these days her unit of four constables works in teams to ensure that one person is not exhausted or falls sick due to heat exposure. When one of them takes a short break, the others stay on the road to ensure smooth traffic flow.

“Once you’re on duty, you don’t realise how high the temperature is and you tend not to focus on it too much. But, we also know this heat can drain you out and so we keep taking breaks. We keep lemonade and even oral rehydration salts (ORS) to have with water so that we don’t feel tired,” says Rani.

The searing heat is particularly bad between noon and 3pm, she says, but the traffic also tends to thin out during this period, giving her group enough time to refresh themselves. “Our fellow officers and seniors do enough to motivate us, since our role is crucial and it is a duty where you are required to be out there, no matter what the temperature or weather. It is important to stay hydrated and take a break whenever possible.”

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