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2 Brothers Killed Cleaning Septic Tank in UP

Eleven sanitation workers have died while cleaning sewer lines in UP in over a month.
septic tank

Lucknow: Hope of making some extra money turned out to be fatal for two sanitation workers who died after entering a septic tank in Uttar Pradesh’s Kushinagar district without protective gear on Thursday.

Ravi (35) and his younger brother Chotelal (30), employed with the Public Works Department (PWD), Padrauna, were hired by a local Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader and contractor named Daya Shankar Singh to clean his septic tank at Awas Vikas Colony, Phase 3. The duo was reportedly promised Rs 750 for the job, much higher than their usual daily wage.

Locals told the media Chotelal entered the tank using a rope without any protective gear around 4 pm while Ravi and others locals stood by. After Chotelal fell unconscious due to the poisonous gases inside the sewer line, Ravi went inside. When he too did not come out, Singh’s personal driver Sanjay Madheshia entered the tank to have a look but he too never came out alive.

We informed the police and brought their bodies out,” Ram Baran, a local, told Newsclick adding that the sewer line was filled with poisonous gases. Subsequently, the sewer suction machine was used to empty the tank and their bodies were brought out, the police said.

Ravi and Chotelal, natives of Champaran district, Bihar, were the sole breadwinners of their family of six kids, wives and their mother.

The police have not registered any case of ‘causing death by negligence’ against Singh. “We are investigating to find who is responsible for the deaths,” a police officer told Newsclick.

At least, nine sanitation workers have died inside sewers in more than a month. Last week, a sanitation worker employed by a private contractor of the Bareilly Municipal Corporation died while cleaning a sewer. According to the police, Rajeev, who stayed at Katra Chand Khan, was sent inside a sewage line at Harunagla allegedly without any gear or safety equipment.

The incident was reported a week after a person died due to asphyxiation when he, along with his two colleagues, entered a sewage treatment plant in Siyana, Bulandshahr district. Last month, four sanitation workers were killed in separate incidents after they allegedly inhaled toxic gases while cleaning sewers in Lucknow and Rae Bareli.

In the wake of so many deaths, the Safai Karamchari Union has convened an emergency meeting on Saturday. It is also in the process of setting up vigilance committees to prevent more such deaths.

Most of these workers are hired by private contractors for a paltry wage of Rs 300-Rs400 a day. They are not provided safety equipment, such as masks, gloves and glasses, mandatory for people undertaking such hazardous tasks.

A worker often gauges the risk of entering a sewer by lighting a matchstick at its mouth to find out the presence of poisonous gases and the absence of oxygen. He enters if the stick burns itself out.

It is a criminal offence to make people work in unsanitary and unsafe conditions. Satish Gautam, a social activist who tracks the death of sanitation workers in the state, told Newsclick, “Employers could be imprisoned and fined if they don’t provide gas masks, safety harness belts, helmets and mechanised equipment to workers at dangerous sites, like clogged sewers. But no criminal cases are registered against such offenders.” 

There are no national data on such deaths though social workers estimate that around 100 sewer workers die every year.

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