Seven people were killed after inhaling toxic fumes from a septic tank outside a hotel in Dabhoi taluka of Gujarat’s Vadodara district around midnight on Friday, police said. Three of those killed were employees of the hotel.
Four workers entered the sewer tank outside Darshan hotel in Fartikuwi village. None of them was wearing protective gear. When the workers did not respond for long, the three hotel staffers went in to look for them.
Police have filed cases of causing death due to negligence, and culpable homicide not amounting to murder against the hotel’s owner, Hasan Abbas. He is on the run.
“Four cleaners were given the task of cleaning the tank. Every night after the hotel closed they were asked to clean the tanks. We presume that one of them entered the tank and suffocated due to some kind of gas leakage. When he did not come out, others jumped in to check on him and suffocated to death as well. Three of them were hotel staff members. We are investigating what gas they inhaled, and what exactly happened,” Deputy Superintendent of Police, Dabhoi division, Kalpesh Solanki, said.
The four cleaners hired by the hotel have been identified as Mahesh Patanwadiya (47), Ashok Harijan (45) and his son Hitesh Harijan (23), and Mahesh Harijan (25), all residents of Thuvavi village in Dabhoi. The three hotel staffers have been identified as Ajay Vasava (24) of Kadavali village in Bharuch district, and Vijay Chauhan (22) and Sahdev Vasava (22) of Velavi village in Umarpada, Surat.
A search and rescue team of the Vadodara and Dabhoi fire department took six hours to recover the bodies. The tank chamber had to be cut with the help of a hydraulic cutter in order to reach the bodies, fire officers said.
“We had to cut the slab of the lid of the septic tank with the help of a JCB machine in order to retrieve the bodies as the opening of the tank was extremely narrow and the bodies had sunk in the sewage inside,” Fire Station officer from Vadodara, M N Modh, said.
Locals people said Patanwadiya entered the tank first. When he did not respond, Ashok, Hitesh and Mahesh followed him one by one. “They never used a machine to clear the sewage, but always called in manual scavengers to save money. The hotel called workers late in the night after the kitchens were closed. The workers had no safety gear, and the owner had been warned earlier. In fact our complaints to the local administration fell on deaf ears,” an area resident said.
Several residents of Thuvavi village gathered at the hotel Saturday. Among them were the families of the deceased sanitation workers, who refused to accept the bodies until the owner of the hotel was arrested. “It was only after they were convinced that a case had been registered against the owner under stringent sections that the families agreed to accept the bodies after the autopsy,” a police officer said.
Chief Minister Vijay Rupani has announced a compensation of Rs 4 lakh for the families of each of the deceased. The state social justice department has announced additional compensation of Rs 8.25 lakh per family. The Association of the Gujarat Sanitation Workers will give Rs 2 lakh to each family.