Manual Scavenging Deaths: Techies & Businessmen Arrested
Manual scavenging is banned across India, but that hasn’t stopped people in various places from making humans enter manholes and sewers.
Manual scavenging is banned across India, but that hasn’t stopped people in various places from making humans enter manholes and sewers.(Photo Courtesy: The News Minute)

Manual Scavenging Deaths: Techies & Businessmen Arrested

The police on Tuesday, 9 January, arrested eight members of ND Sepal Apartment Association in Somasandra Palya, Bengaluru, in connection with the death of three men while cleaning a manhole in the apartment complex.

“We have arrested eight people from the apartment in connection with the incident for negligence. All eight men arrested work as techies and businessmen in the city. The contractor, who was also negligent in this case, died along with two others. The contractor was trying to clean the motor when the incident happened,” said Ramesh Kumar, Inspector at Bandepalya Police Station.

The contractor, Narayana Swamy (35), Mahadeva Gowda (42) and Srinivas (52) died after they entered a manhole inside the premises of ND Sepal Apartments in Somasundara Palya in HSR Layout in a bid to manually clean it.

Mahadeva Gowda passed away while being taken to Columbia Asia Hospital, while the bodies of Narayana Swamy and Srinivas were recovered by fire and emergency personnel from inside the manhole.

An FIR was registered at the Bandepalya Police Station under section 304A (causing death by negligence), read with Section 34 (acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention) of the Indian Penal Code.

Initially, police officials were unsure of who they should be taking action against.

"We have to see whether the residents gave consent to this and are exploring whether they can be charged. The investigation is on and we will know more soon," Ramesh Kumar had earlier said.

Pressure from human rights activists and lawyers following the incident appears to have forced the police’s hand.

The bodies of the three deceased have been kept at St John’s Hospital for post-mortem.

Employing a manual scavenger has been made a cognisable offence with imprisonment and fine since 1993, and the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act 2013 and a Supreme Court ruling state the same.

But the banned practice persists across the country as the ban has not been enforced properly by the government or private parties.

At the moment, we do not know the cause of death. All we know is that the incident had occurred around 10:30 am. Post-mortem will be conducted and only then can we know about the cause. The police have been informed. In most of these cases, asphyxia is the primary cause of death.
Dr Sanjiv Lewin, Medical Superintendent, St John’s Hospital

"Septic tanks are enclosed areas with decomposed domestic waste, sewage and resultant gases. Methane is extremely toxic in high concentrations apart from hydrogen sulphide, ammonia, carbon dioxide and others. Toxicity causes asphyxia at cellular levels, damaging vital organs rapidly, and kills," he explained.

Bengaluru Mayor N Sampath Raj told TNM:

There is negligence by the apartment owners. The workers did not have any protective gear. This is a human rights violation, they should not have done this. The concerned apartment association president and the vice-president have been detained by the police. Investigation is going on and action will be taken.

“Tomorrow onwards we will advertise in newspapers informing that such violations will no longer be tolerated and strict action will be taken,” the Mayor added.

Other than the Mayor, Bengaluru Development Minister KJ George also visited the accident spot.

However, this is not the first death due to this barbaric practice.

In March 2017 too, three persons engaged to clean a manhole had died due to unsafe conditions. At that time, it was a government body, the BWSSB, which had hired those three persons to manually clean the sewer.

Back then, Clifton Rozario, a lawyer advocating the cause of these workers had said, “It is the social circumstances that compels them to clean another person's waste. We as a society are equally responsible for the deaths. Not just that, society is equally responsible for this. As far as the urban elite are concerned, they want their dirt to be cleaned and do not bother about who does it in what conditions. The blood of these men are on our hands.”

In 1993, employing a manual scavenger was made a cognisable offence with imprisonment and fine, and The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, and a Supreme Court ruling state the same.

(This article was first published on The News Minute and has been republished with permission.)

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