Four persons died of asphyxiation in Tuticorin district in Tamil Nadu on Thursday while cleaning a septic tank. The Thattaparai police has registered an FIR against the owner of the house they were employed at.
The deceased, identified as Pandi (24), Isakiraja (20), Bala (23) and Dinesh (20), were residents of Veervanallur in Tirunelveli district.
A. Somasundaram (65), the owner of the house in Keela Chekkarakudi, had instructed them to clean the septic tank. The men worked through the morning. At noon, after two rounds of cleaning, one of them fainted. The others got inside the septic tank to rescue him but all of them fainted and died subsequently.
Their bodies were taken to Tuticorin Government Hospital for post-mortem.
Somasundaram has been booked under Section 288 and Section 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) of the Indian Penal Code. He has also been booked under Sections 8, 9 of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavenger & Their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 and Section 3 (1) (j) of The Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.
On Friday, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswamy announced a compensation of Rs 10 lakh to the families of the men.
Manual Scavenging refers to the practice of manually cleaning / disposing human excreta. It was criminalised in India in 1993 by the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993. In 2013, a new legislation – The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 – was introduced, prohibiting the employment of persons as manual scavengers.
Speaking to NewsClick, Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI(M)) Tirunelveli District Secretary, K.G. Bhaskaran, said: “Despite stringent provisions in law, manual scavenging continues to find practitioners in India. It’s high time the Central Government takes necessary steps that will make the 2013 legislation more functional.”
U.K. Sivagnanam, Joint General Secretary of the Tamil Nadu Untouchability Eradication Front (TNUEF) said that members of the SC/ST community were engaged in manual scavenging for a living in most cases. “The government should identify and provide them with alternate job opportunities. On the other hand, robots can be used for this job. We say we have come a long way in terms of technological development. Why not make use of the innovations in places where they are needed the most?” he asked.
The number of people killed while cleaning sewers and septic tanks has increased over the last few years. According to reports, the year 2019 was witness to the highest number of manual scavenging deaths in the past five years, at 110. The year 2016 accounted for 50 deaths owing to manual scavenging, while 2017 and 2018 recorded 83 and 66 deaths respectively.