In an incident which once again highlights the apathy of civic officials towards the plight of conservancy staff, a 43-year-old worker died after inhaling poisonous gas while trying to clear a drainage chamber in Kalewadi area of Pimpri-Chinchwad around 11 am on Wednesday. His colleague, who too had to be hospitalised, is now out of danger.
Standing committee chairperson Seema Savale said the Pimpri-Chinchwad Municipal Corporation (PCMC) will make the contractor pay Rs 5 lakh as financial assistance to the family of the deceased. Civic officials said such a help has never been extended in the past to a contract employee.
The PCMC administration said it was not immediately clear whether the accident was a result of negligence by the contractor or officials. It said it had appointed a two-member committee to probe the incident and take corrective steps to prevent a recurrence. It comprises Joint Commissioner Dilip Gawde and Joint City Engineer Ravindra Dudhekar.
The deceased, identified as Bharat Bhimrao Davkhare, was a contract employee living in Mahatma Phule Nagar area. He, along with another employee, rushed to the spot after a Kalewadi corporator reported about an overflowing drainage chamber in his area.
Municipal Commissioner Shravan Hardikar said the duo carried jet suction machine to drain out the water from the chamber. “As per the preliminary information, the deceased was trying to put the machine in place after opening the cover of the drainage chamber. As soon as he opened the chamber, he and another worker who was standing nearby, suffered from suffocation and were rushed to the nearby hospital. One of them later died while another has been discharged from hospital,” he said.
The civic chief identified the poisonous gas as methane. An eye-witness, however, said both workers had been lowered into the drainage chamber which was around 10-feet deep. “After clearing the chamber, both of them felt uneasy and fell unconscious,” he said.
Health inspector Suresh Bhandare and the driver of the vehicle in which the cleaning machine was brought were also at the spot. An official said they had to call the fire brigade on the spot to pull out the duo and rush them to the hospital.
Asked whether the deceased was wearing the mandatory gas mask and other safety equipment like gloves and gumboot, Hardikar said such facts would be revealed by the investigation. “If there is any negligence in the case, whether from the officials or the contractor, strong action will be taken,” he said. The civic chief said he will also review the policy regarding the health check-up of the conservancy staff. “I will review the entire process of health check-up to see what’s the best we can do for the conservancy staff,” he said.
Sagar Charan, vice-president, Health Department Grievance Redressal Committee, alleged that the PCMC had been violating the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2103, and this incident was another example of such violation. “In this case, the worker, as per our information, was on the job with hardly any safety equipment. Instead of the machine doing the job, he had to do it manually which is a violation of the Act,” Charan said.
He said even the Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955 had been violated in this case. However, Hardikar said, the machine provided for cleaning the chamber was aimed at ensuring that the work was not done manually. “We will investigate whether the workers were given safety equipment or not. And if they were given the safety equipment and still not using it, then we will try to create awareness among them,” he said.
Standing committee chairperson Seema Savale said the committee had directed the civic administration to act strongly against the guilty. “The administration has also been directed to find out the exact reason behind the incident and take effective corrective action so that no such conservancy staff loses his or her life in the future,” she said.
Announcing an immediate help of Rs 5 lakh for the family of the deceased, Savale said the PCMC will make the contractor pay the amount without wasting any time. “Additionally, PCMC will also see what could be done under the law to help the family financially,” she said.