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Monday, September 27, 2021

Sewer cleaning deaths: ‘Workers hired for odd jobs were asked to clean manhole’

Kin of deceased refuse autopsy; hotel’s general manager held.

Written by Divya Goyal | Ludhiana |
December 11, 2017 12:50:40 am
manual scavenging, ludhiana sewer death, ludhiana hotel death, indian express Police personnel talk to relatives of the two deceased, at Civil Hospital in Ludhiana Sunday. (Express Photo: Gurmeet Singh)

A day after two workers died and three got took ill while cleaning sewer line at Hotel Grand Marian of Ludhiana, families of the victims told police that none of the five were professional sewer cleaners and were not even hired for this job. They were instead hired for other odd jobs at hotel through a contractor but on Saturday the hotel manager told them to clean a manhole and unblock it.

Without any experience of cleaning manholes or sewage, they were asked to open the lid of the manhole and go inside to clean it. They were not provided with any safety kits. While one of the deceased, Deepak, was a security guard at the hotel, the other deceased, Armaan alias Kohinoor, was ‘safai karamchari’ and his job was to clean utensils and mopping floors. Both were getting just Rs 7,000-8,000. Three others Sameer, Sonu and Krish, who also fell unconscious after inhaling toxic gas, were also hired for cleaning and mopping in housekeeping department.

Speaking to The Indian Express, Ludhiana Commissioner of Police RN Dhoke confirmed that the hotel never hired five men as sewer cleaners and they had no previous experience of this work. “They were not professionals. They never did this job. They were hired for other jobs in the hotel like housekeeping, cleaning, among others. They were asked to clean sewage without any professional know-how and not provided any safety kits. Also, the hotel authorities never informed Municipal Corporation to get professional service. We have added non-bailable sections to the FIR,” he said.

Families of deceased Deepak and Armaan refused autopsy Sunday and said that cremation would not be done till hotel owner was arrested. Sources said a choked manhole in hotel’s basement had been lying closed since years and on Saturday the workers were told to clean and unblock it.

Vishal, cousin brother of Deepak, said, “My brother was security guard at the hotel. They were not sanitary workers or sewer cleaners. He was very obedient and would agree to do whatever owners asked him to do. He has lost his life for just Rs 8,000. How can hotel authorities ask employees to clean manholes without any experience or safety kit? This is not only inhumane but also clearly a crime. He has left behind a toddler son, wife and old parents. His sister had also died of cancer. We will not cremate the body till hotel owner is not arrested.”

Armaan’s uncle Naresh Kumar said Armaan was in housekeeping department and hired for mopping floors and cleaning utensils. “Cleaning sewage was simply not his job. They did not even provide any safety kits and simply told them to go and open a manhole. We are not cremating him till owner is not arrested,” he said.

Akshay, brother of Sameer, who got unconscious while rescuing two others, said his brother was in the housekeeping department. “He never did this work and had no professional knowledge of it,” he said.  Bodies were kept at Civil Hospital till filing of this report as families refused autopsy. They said police should arrest owner within 24 hours or they will protest.

One arrested, stringent sections added to FIR

Dhoke said non-bailable sections had been added to the FIR. On Saturday, police had booked hotel owner and general manager for causing death due to negligence (304-A of IPC), which is a bailable offence. “We have upgraded it to 304 of IPC (culpable homicide not amounting to murder). Also, some sections of SC/ST Act and sections 8, 9 of Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 have been added to FIR,” said Dhoke.

Police also arrested Suraj Prakash, managing director-cum-general manager of the hotel, but the owner Chetan Verma is still absconding.  His father Vijay Bharat Verma, also one of the owners, said, “I am a practising lawyer with no interference in the hotel management. Our managing director Suraj Prakash was handling it. I have no idea how this all happened.”

Inspector Kamaldeep Singh, SHO Model Town police station, said that records of the hotel were being checked. “We are checking actual designations of the workers but they were all hired through a contractor and none of them was a professional sewer cleaner,” he said.

Whar the law on manual scavenging says

The central government notified the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act and its rules in 2013 . The Act says that sewers are to be cleaned mechanically only (using machines) but the manual cleaning is allowed in “exceptional circumstances”, but then workers have to be provided with proper safety kits and equipment.

In “exceptional circumstances” too, but it can only be permitted by the CEO of the local authority after recording in writing the specific reasons for allowing such cleaning.

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