As many as eight sewermen have lost their lives while cleaning manholes in Chandigarh in the last seven years. Reason: Negligence of authorities.
Even as the Manual Scavengers Act prohibits employment as manual scavengers, sewer holes in Chandigarh are being cleaned manually, leading to the death of innocent persons.
Last week, a sewer man identified as Jitender died of inhaling a poisonous gas while cleaning a manhole.
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“As per the Act, these manholes should not be cleaned manually; these should be cleaned only with machines. If a person is cleaning the same, he should be provided all the safety equipment. But the authorities do not do so which is illegal,” said B R Tisawarah, president of Chandigarh Dalit Welfare Association.
For a mere amount of Rs 300 for cleaning a manhole, these sewermen have been putting their lives at risk.
“A poor illiterate man does not know that if a contractor is asking him to go down and clean the manhole, he should be given safety gear. Is it not the duty of the officer concerned to provide the safety gear? At least the officer is educated,” said Sukhram Chauhan, general secretary of Chandigarh Dalit Welfare Association.
Ideally, a manhole needs to be kept open for a while before a person goes down to clean it so that the poisonous gases do not remain concentrated in that area and take the life of a person. “Just as the manhole is opened, the person is asked to go down. They should keep it open,” said Chauhan. “It is already stinking and full of harmful gases. Can the officials go down?”
After losing their eighth worker, the Chandigarh Dalit Welfare Association is now planning to file a police complaint against the official concerned.
“On Monday, we will lodge a complaint with Senior Superintendent of Police against the official concerned. Even the Supreme Court judgment says manholes should not be cleaned manually,” added Tisawarah.
The association has already asked the Municipal Corporation to give a compensation of Rs 10 lakh each to the family of those who died due to negligence of the authorities. The MC in its recent house meeting passed the agenda of giving compensation of Rs 10 lakh to families of those sewermen who died while cleaning the manholes.
Last year, three workers died due to suffocation while cleaning a sewer line in Sector 47. They entered the sewer line, one after another, through a 25-foot-deep manhole, using a ladder.
Despite this incident, no safety equipment was procured by the civic body. It is only this month after the recent death that they have floated tenders of Rs 26 lakh for procuring the equipment.
Also, Mayor Arun Sood has said until the equipment reach, no worker will be asked to clean the manholes. In case of an emergency, the worker will go down only under the supervision of the Junior Engineer concerned.