A 25-year-old man was killed while rescuing his brother from a septic tank inside a shopping mall in Chennai early Tuesday morning. The deceased, who was identified as Arun Kumar, along with four others — his brother Ranjith Kumar, Ajith Kumar, Srinath, and Yuvaraj — had been employed by a private contractor to manually clean a tank inside an upscale mall in the city.
Ranjith Kumar, who descended into the tank first, began coughing repeatedly and soon fainted from inhaling its toxic fumes. Arun Kumar jumped in to save him. While Ranjith was saved, Arun Kumar choked on the poisonous gases inside the tank and asphyxiated to death.
Arun Kumar’s body was later retrieved and sent to the Royapettah Government Hospital for post-mortem. He is survived by his wife and three daughters.
Anna Salai Police have arrested the contractor, Dhandapani. A case has been filed under section 9 of the Prohibition of Employment As Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 — a first for Chennai.
The death of Arun Kumar adds to the growing list of manual scavenging deaths in the state. In 2018, Tamil Nadu reported 144 manual scavenging deaths — the highest in the country, according to a list released by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment earlier this year.
DMK leader MK Stalin wrote on Twitter: “The Dravidian Principle believes that people should not engage in such business. We should develop modern equipment and end this distress. We must collectively strive to preserve human dignity.”
Film director Pa. Ranjith and cricketer Ravichandran Ashwin also took to Twitter to express concerns over the incident.
Speaking to indianexpress.com, Pandian, of Dalit Foundation, blamed government negligence for the death. “There are some procedures for cleaning a private or public septic tank. The cleaners, or the contractors, have to register with the local municipality. According to the Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Act, suo motu notice of the matter will be taken by the district magistrate.”
As per a Niti Aayog survey of 2018, 38,785 persons were identified as manual scavengers in the country. At the state level, according to survey data collected by the National Safai Karamcharis Finance and Development Corporation up to August 2019, the state government had identified only 62 manual scavengers, despite 1,433 people registering themselves as one.