Two labourers of the three who were hired by a local contractor for working in a manhole died in Sarkhej area of Ahmedabad on September 20 while third worker had a narrow escape. The labourers were Tribals who hailed from Dahod district and were hired by contractor KN Sawani for a job for Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC).
Reportedly, Sukhram Dalabhai Mohania and Sunilbhai Palash, both residents of Undar village of Dhanpur taluka in Dahod were lowered into a manhole pit to measure an under-construction line and a chamber of an under-construction water supply project.
“Sunilbhai and Sukhrambhai—aged 22 or 23 years old—were first to enter the manhole and lost consciousness after which another labourer attempted to climb down to rescue them. However, he climbed out immediately when he saw both of them unconscious. Though he escaped narrowly, he is still admitted in a hospital and is undergoing treatment,” Parsottam Vaghela, a Gujarat-based activist who works with the sanitation workers and manual scavengers, told NewsClick.
“Usually, Valmiki Dalits (a sub-caste of Dalits who are considered the lowest in the caste hierarchy) do such jobs, but off late, tribals, who have been left without a source of income after losing their land, have also been taking up jobs of cleaning manholes or of garbage collection in cities like Surat and Ahmedabad,” added Vaghela.
Sunilbhai Palash was the lone breadwinner in his family and he is survived by his wife and children while Sukhram Dalabhai Mohania is survived by his wife and father.
Dalabhai Mohania, Sukhram’s father has filed an FIR at the Vejalpur police station of Ahmedabad accusing three people—the labour contractor, an AMC nodal officer and contractor KL Sawani. Charges have been framed against the three under IPC section 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder), 114 (abetment) and under sections of Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Act 2013 and SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.
In the FIR, Dalabhai Mohania has stated that the labourers were told to go down a manhole without safety gears and hence they died of asphyxiation.
Notably, Gujarat ranks second highest in the country with 156 deaths in sewer between 1993 and 2019 as per the data of National Commission of Safai Karamchari (NCSK). Despite the Centre enacting the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act in 2013, Gujarat government has not taken much effort to implement the Act at district and taluka levels.
“We are waiting for the post mortem report of the deceased now. It needs to be proved that the men died of asphyxiation; only then the families of the deceased will be entitled to receive compensation of Rs 10 lakh,” said Vaghela.