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In Photos: Working In The Delhi Heat Wave

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As the peak power demand breached the 8000 MW mark in Delhi for the first time ever on 29 May, the city refused to let the heat drag it down. While it was business as usual for air-conditioned offices, it is a different story for blue collar workers.

This photo essay looks at informal workers in Delhi, some of the worst affected by the recent heat wave. Many of them are in occupations directly associated with an additional heat source in their work environment. For the construction worker on the road, the asphalt absorbs and radiates even more heat.

These images were taken last weekend, when Delhi temperatures were still over 40 Celsius in most parts of the city. Sporadic showers did little to help.

The temperatures in the images have been recorded using a digital hygro-thermometer and show the ambient temperatures in the immediate surroundings of the worker. These have been contrasted with the temperature recorded just a few meters from their workplace. 

“This year is not so hot (compared to previous years). I cycle 20 km to my home in Burari at 1 in the afternoon. If it was too hot, I would not even cross the first red light,” said Mahaveer, 42, who works at a shop that sells tea and chhole bhature on Matia Mahal Road in Old Delhi.

Mohammad Rizwan, 43, has been selling mutton seekh kebabs in front of the Jama Masjid for 15 years. “I sell around 6 kg in the winter and in summers, half of that. This year the heat is just different (harsher),”said Rizwan. “These carts (next to his) used to sell seekh too but this year they have stopped.”

“Even if it is hotter this year, we are used to this profession. Work can’t stop and I have a family to feed,” said Mohammad Alam, 39 who has been a welder for over 10 years. He works at an iron-works shop that primarily makes water-trolley carts, located in Ram Nagar Market near the New Delhi Railway Station. 

Geeta and Parmeshwar run a small ironing and laundry shack within a DDA flat colony compound in Sukhdev Vihar locality of South East Delhi. “The heat is unbearable this year. We used to work from under the staircase in one of the blocks but were asked to move out (by the residents) of the building during covid times,” said Geeta, who has been working in the locality for over 40 years and travels from her home in Faridabad every day.    

“It is hard for us workers, but this kind of regular work is hard to come by,” said 28-year-old Mohammad Saib, talking about the month-long construction work related to digging up a road to access CCTV cables, on Abul Fazal Road Enclave near the Okhla Bird Sanctuary.    
          

“We started kneading the dough at 2 am in the night and will finish preparing today’s batch of Pattri (rusk) by 8 or 9 in the evening. The machine (oven) runs all the time, except 4-5 hours in a day, and four of us work in two shifts,” said Pradeep Singh, employed at a small-scale rusk manufacturing unit in Jamia Nagar for the last 25 years. “It gets hot inside here, but it is a different kind of heat. People say that those walking outside in the sun have their skin peeling off, but we are safe (from that),” adds Singh, who belongs to Mainpuri in Uttar Pradesh and works for Rs 12-15,000 a month, depending on the demand of the product.

 As the peak power demand breached the 8000 MW mark in Delhi for the first time ever on 29 May, the city refused to let the heat drag it down. While it was business as usual for air conditioned offices, it is a different story for blue collar workers.    

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