Gujarat is among the top two states in the entire country to register the highest number of sewer deaths since 1993. Of the 705 deaths that have taken place across the nation, 132 were registered in Gujarat alone.
Ahmedabad: Ahmedabad’s sewers continue to claim sanitation workers lives with no official being held accountable for it.
Two sanitation workers and a contractor died inside a manhole in Bavla area of Ahmedabad Rural late on Sunday night, DNA reported. The deceased have been identified as Rakesh Patel (private contractor), Raju Vala (worker) and Amit Makwana (worker).
The Bavla Nagarpalika had given the contract to maintain the sewer lines of Bavla to a private contractor identified as Rakesh Patel. Late on Sunday night, in order to clean the sewer line located at Sudarshan crossroads, Patel had reached the spot with four of his workers, the report by DNA said.
“At around 10:30 pm, after routine cleaning operation with jet machines, when one of the workers, Amit, entered the manhole to check whether it was clean or not, he felt dizzy and called out for help. One of the other workers and the contractor, who were waiting outside, jumped in to save him. Unfortunately, they too fell unconscious. When the other workers noticed the incident, they informed the fire department who arrived at the spot immediately. All three were pulled out of the manhole by firemen and were rushed to a hospital for treatment. However, they were declared dead on arrival by doctors,” the report said.
A complaint was lodged against the contractor with the Bavla police station under IPC 304 and Atrocity, and further investigation is on.
Gujarat is among the top two states in the entire country to register the highest number of sewer deaths since 1993, an RTI query filed by Mirror found.
Manual scavenging was banned 26 years but still continue to claim lives. Of the 705 deaths that have taken place across the nation between 1993 and January 2019, 132 were registered in Gujarat alone, replied National Commission of Safai Karamcharis (NCSK) to an RTI query raised by Mirror.
Ahmedabad, with at least 49 deaths, recorded the highest number of deaths in the state.
Gujarat has seen 175 cases of workers dying in manholes and sewer lines but except for one case, no one has ever been punished for the deaths.
“Those who have been fighting with the state to get compensation for such deaths say incidents such as the ones in Bavla on Monday will continue to happen unless government officials are taken to task,” another report by DNA said.
"As far as I know only one case in which a man died after entering into a gutter in Bapunagar in 2008 saw the contractor being punished with one year of imprisonment. In all the other 174 cases no one has ever been punished," said Purushottam Vaghela of Manav Garima that fights for the rights of manhole workers and to end the system of men entering sewer to clean them, DNA reported.
Vaghela said the problem is that every time a death such a the one in Bavla is reported the police are quick to report an accidental death. "No one is ever blamed. Even when someone is named as an accused it is often the contractor. But the government n official who gave the contract is never pulled up. If you give a contract it is your duty to ensure that rules are followed. You can't wash your hands saying it is the contractor who asked the labourer to enter into the sewer line and we have nothing to do with it. You have to ensure that the contractor uses machines and not men," said Vaghela in the report.
He said Bavla Nagarpalika had earlier seen a similar death in December 2017. "In that case, the victim's family was not even compensated because the Nagarpalika washed its hands of the matter saying it was the lookout of the water supply department and not the nagarpalika," said Vaghela in the report.
HP Mishra of the National Campaign for the Dignity and Right of Sewage and Allied Workers said that while the government has filed an affidavit with the courts promising that they will not be using men to clean sewer lines, every nagarpalika continues to use labourers to clean them, the report said.
"Moreover, even the contractors are not aware that they can't ask men to enter sewer holes. The government also does not carry out a health and safety awareness training for its contractors," said Mishra in the report.
He said since manhole workers don't form a significant vote bank the government is happy to trample on their rights. Siddharth Patel, chief officer of Bavla nagarpalika when contacted said he cannot comment on the earlier instance since he has been in the nagarpalika for only four months. "As for this case investigation is on and we will also be trying to get a compensation for the victim," said Patel in the report.
It should be noted that of the 175 cases of death of manhole workers registered in the state compensation has been paid only in 75 cases.
"Human beings employed for doing work in the sewers cannot be treated as mechanical robots who may not be affected by poisonous gases in the manholes. The state and its agencies or contractors should ensure safety of persons asked to undertake hazardous jobs," SC said.
"Given the option, no one would like to enter the manhole of sewage system for cleaning purposes, but there are people who are forced to undertake such hazardous jobs with the hope that at the end of the day they will be able to make some money and feed their family. They risk their lives for the comfort of others," it said.
"Unfortunately, for last few decades, a substantial segment of urban society has become insensitive to the plight of these poor workers who undertake hazardous jobs to eke a living. People belonging to this segment do not want to understand why a person is made to enter manhole without safety gears and proper equipments. They look the other way when the body of a worker who dies in the manhole is taken out with the help of ropes and cranes," the court added.