Four youths, on Thursday, died of asphyxiation in Tamil Nadu's Thoothukudi district after they entered a septic tank to clean clogged sewage. The men were all aged between 20 and 24 and the police have filed an FIR against the owner of the house where they were employed to clean the tank on Thursday.
The four youths - Pandi (24), Isakiraja (20), Bala (23) and Dinesh (20) -belonged to Veervanallur in the neighbouring Tirunelveli district. While Pandi, Isakiraja and Bala worked as manual scavengers, Dinesh had accompanied them for work according to the police because daily wage jobs were far and few due to the coronavirus pandemic.
A Somasundaram, a 65-year-old, had instructed them to clean the septic tank at his residence in Keela Chekkarakudi. The men had done two rounds of cleaning and at around 2 pm, one of the persons in the tank fainted. On seeing the person faint, the others entered to save him, but none could be rescued after this.
"They have breathed in noxious fumes in the tanks," said the investigating officer in the case. "By 2:30 pm they were all dead. We took statements of eyewitnesses and families on Thursday night and filed an FIR," he adds.
Somasundaram has been booked under sections 288 (Whoever, in pulling down or repairing any building, knowingly or negligently omits to take such order with that building as is sufficient to guard against any probable danger to human life from the fall of that building, or of any part thereof, shall be punished) and 304 (Punishment for culpable homicide not amounting to murder) of the Indian Penal Code. He has further been booked under sections 8 and 9 of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers Act, 2014.
"The accused is an elderly man with a heart condition. We will be arresting him today after a health check-up," says the investigating officer.
The deaths of these youths is similar to the manner in which a 25-year-old man died in Chennai's Express Avenue mall in November 2019. Arunkumar had been watching his brother Ranjithkumar cleaning the septic tank in the mall when he noticed that the latter had fainted. He immediately jumped in and managed to push Ranjithkumar out. But before he could escape, he breathed in noxious fumes, fainted and eventually died with friends unable to save him.
Manual scavenging was outlawed in India in 1993 through 'The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act'. In 2013, another legislation was introduced prohibiting the employment of persons as manual scavengers. This bans employment of people to clean human waste and also allows for imprisonment of up to five years, for those who employ manual scavengers.
(The article was originally published in The News Minute and has been reposted with permission.)