A day after two men died in a manhole in Sector-24, Noida, a massive protest was staged at the accident site. Family members of the two men who died demanded monetary compensation, government jobs for their kin and arrest of those responsible for the deaths.
Meanwhile, both Noida Authority and the officials of the ESI Hospital have denied charges of negligence towards sewage workers. Police have lodged an FIR against the contractors to whom the work of cleaning manholes had been handed out to. Noida police personnel needed the help of Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) to control the protest, which was called off when the Noida city magistrate, Kamta Prasad, assured protesters that their demands would be considered.
The protesters had initially gathered at the Adobe crossing near Sector-24, but were later forced to leave by police. Relatives of the two victims kept the two bodies outside the ESI Hospital, shouting slogans against the district administration and the contractor.
Around 4.30 pm on Monday, Bablu Valmiki (28), a cleaner at the ESI hospital had entered the manhole. When he didn’t come out for a long time, his wife raised an alarm and a nearby fruit-seller Shyamveer, entered the manhole to try and save him. Both died in the manhole. A third person, Ramu, also jumped into the manhole, but the fire brigade had reached the spot and Ramu was rescued.
Noida Authority and the ESI Hospital have refused to take responsibility for the two deaths. The Authority said that they have handed out an annual maintenance contract for the manholes. “The work is mostly mechanised and in case there is an emergency situation, where someone needs to manually enter the manhole, we take precautions,” a Noida Authority official said.
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ESI Hospital has also issued a statement claiming that they had never hired anyone for cleaning the manhole where the incident had taken place since it was located “outside hospital premises”. The hospital has also formed a fact finding committee.
Bablu’s wife Mausami alleged that her husband had died as a direct result of negligence on behalf of civic authorities. “We want Rs 25 lakh each as compensation. I need a job now, or else we won’t have enough money for food. But most importantly, those who were responsible must be arrested,” she said.
Meanwhile, activists said even if the responsibility lay with the contractor, the fact remained that these men died because they were thrust into a hazardous work environment without the necessary precautions. “He didn’t have any safety gear and the contractor had asked him to go. The contractor allowed this to happen and he is directly in the employment of the ESI Hospital. Passing the buck won’t do,” Raj Valmiki, a member of Safai Karamchari Andolan, said.
Previously, the Delhi High Court had noted that the provision of free medical care facilities to sewage workers, and payment of compensation to sewage workers suffering from occupational diseases and provision of protective gear and equipment to the workers going down the drain was mandatory.