A labourer was rescued alive after he was stuck for more than six hours in a water pipe in Odisha’s Cuttack district, prompting a massive rescue operation by government authorities. The labourer, identified as 50-year-old local resident Prana Krushna Muduli, was cleaning the pump house pipe of Cuttack’s Police Colony and got stuck 25-30 feet into the pipe, which was less than three feet in diameter.
Sources say the pump operator, who was unaware of the Muduli’s presence in the pipe, switched on the pump and the force of water swept the labourer thirty feet inside the pipe. He could not come out as he was stuck in a crouched position. After being rescued, he was rushed to SCB Medical College for a health assessment.
The accident has revived questions about unsafe conditions for workers employed in construction and maintenance of public infrastructure in Odisha. One worker was killed and another injured on May 3 after a flyover under construction in Bhubaneswar’s Bomikhal collapsed for the second time in nine months. In March, a worker from Kerala was killed in Cuttack while renovating a drain.
A joint rescue team, comprising of 100 workers, of fire department, Cuttack unit of Odisha Disaster Rapid Action Force (ODRAF) and police worked for nearly six hours to rescue the trapped labourer. Police cordoned off the ring road in Cuttack near Chahata area, which stranded hundreds of commuters and vehicles. Hundreds of onlookers, including collector of Cuttack and Municipal Corporation Commissioner, gathered at the site to witness the operations.
A mini excavator or earth-moving equipment was used to dig a vertical path to the point where the labourer was trapped inside the pipe. However, the thick concrete casing around the pipe made the task difficult and drill machines and hand-held cutters had to be pressed into service. Rescue personnel also tried to break the pipe manually with digging bars and mattocks.
The incident also exposed the poor coordination between different disaster management agencies. As the rescue operation entered its fifth hour, ODRAF personnel addressed the press, accusing the fire department “of not allowing us to rescue (Muduli) because of their ego”. ODRAF personnel claimed they “would have rescued Muduli in 30 minutes”.
Meanwhile, the labourer, who appeared to be breathless, was screaming that he feared “his leg was broken” as the rescue operation was on. Muduli was provided water and oxygen by the authorities during the rescue operation. He spent six harrowing hours in the narrow pipe.
Chief Fire Safety Officer Sukanta Sethi, who supervised the rescue operations, said the “concrete surrounding the pipe slowed down the pace of digging”. Former Odisha DGP Sanjeev Marik questioned why the worker was not strapped with a safety belt that would have prevented him from being swept inside.