Bablu Valmiki, the 26-year-old cleaner at ESI hospital who was asphyxiated while cleaning a manhole last Monday, was forced to go into the hole a second time — an act which, eyewitnesses and his family members claimed, cost him his life.
Bablu’s family members said his contractor Sardar Singh — who is absconding — asked him to re-enter the manhole after he spotted a single polythene cover.
They said Singh refused to pay Bablu his wages unless the manhole was “clean enough”.
When Bablu didn’t surface from the manhole on his second entry, a nearby fruit seller Shyamveer — who is also Bablu’s relative — entered the hole in an attempt to rescue him.
After a while, Ramu, the owner of a nearby mobile shop, also jumped in to try and save the other two.
Ramu had taken the precaution of tying a rope to his body before entering the manhole, a step that probably saved his life. Bablu was asphyxiated in the manhole while Shyamveer died at the ESI hospital a while later.
Ramu counts himself lucky but is the first to say that the two deaths were avoidable. “Bablu had come out the first time. He said he wasn’t feeling well. But Sardar Singh pointed to a milk packet cover inside and asked him to go in again. When he didn’t come up, Singh fled,” Ramu said.
The same story is recounted by Bablu’s family members. He is survived by his wife Mausami and their children Gaurav (12), Chandni (10) and Saurav (8). None of them go to school.
“It was always too difficult to send them to school. Too expensive. We don’t have a BPL card, all we had was Bablu’s identity card. And now he’s gone because of one polythene bag,” his wife said.
On being asked if her husband was ever provided protective gear, she said she had never seen such gear.
“Sardar Singh asked my husband to clean the drain outside the ESI hospital and said he would pay Bablu only after that. He entered the drain, even though he was only supposed to clean drains within the ESI compound, only because we needed the money,” she said.
Police have lodged an FIR under Section 304 (culpable homicide) of the IPC against Sardar Singh. “He is on the run, but we will arrest him. We have already formed teams to track him and we have some solid leads,” Gautam Budh Nagar SSP Pritender Singh said.
But for Mausami, the future looks bleak. Her children are her responsibility and she has no way to fend for them. She has submitted a memorandum of demands to the district magistrate. “I want a job for myself, a home to live in and compensation for my husband’s death,” she said.