A week after the much publicised event of Prime Minister Narendra Modi washing the feet of safai karamchari (sanitation workers) at the Kumbh Mela in Prayagraj went viral on social media platforms, two contractual manual scavengers have suffocated to death in his own constituency, Varanasi. This is the second such incident reported from the region.
The deceased have been identified as Rajesh Paswan who hails from Motihari, Bihar and Chandan, who was a resident of Shivpur area of Varanasi. The incident took place on March 1, when the duo along with another worker named Umesh stepped into a sewer line near Kali Mandir in Pandeypur area around 3:30 AM on Friday. Suddenly, the wall of the chamber slipped and the three workers got trapped in it. Umesh somehow manged to came out, but the other two were stuck and eventually, died due to suffocation. According to the local residents, after the road caved in and the labourers were trapped inside the manhole, water started leaking into it.
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The local police reached the scene after getting information from locals and started rescue operations with the help of National Disaster Response Force (NDRF). No complaint has been filed by the kin of deceased persons so far, a local told NewsClick.
On this issue, Lenin Raghuvanshi, a human rights activist based in Varanasi, has complained to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). He told NewsClick, "The incident took place on February 28, but they rescued the dead bodies only after 8 hours. The contractor has been absconding since. The sewer pipes were choked, so the workers had stepped in to unclog the pipes. However, another pipe started leaking and the wall of the chamber slipped leading to them being trapped inside. But no one was there to help them, leading to their eventual suffocation. There should be a backup system, so that when 2-3 persons are inside then some help should be available for them.”
"If the NDRF team had reached the spot in time, they could have been saved. What is beyond my thinking is that despite the country becoming modern, why is the government not buying proper safety equipment for the municipal corporation and labourers,” he said.
He added that deceased persons’ family are demanding Rs 10 lakh for each from the government.
Government Indifferent while Manual Scavengers Die
However, this is not the first incident of death of manual scavengers in Varanasi. NewsClick has reported that in November, two contractual manual scavengers from the Chowkaghat area had died due to suffocation while cleaning the newly constructed sewage tank – two days before PM Modi's visit to his home turf.
According to founder of the Safai Karamchari Andolan (SKA), Bezwada Wilson, “105 workers have been killed in sewer and septic tanks in 2018 alone. In 2019, 13 workers have died so far across the country but PM Modi is busy doing political stunts like washing feet of sanitation workers.”
He said, "The question is no more about equipment or safety gear, but what we want is that no human being should be allowed to enter sewer lines and septic tank. It should be stopped immediately as it is against the law. If this continues, then Modi must take the responsibility of the deaths of workers."
When asked about the solution to stop such deaths, Bezwada said, “The government knows everything but they are not applying any measures, leaving the workers to die. The only way to deal with this issue is to mechanise the process and we have already advised the government long time back on how it is to be done. However, they refuse to make any changes.”
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