Following the death of two Dalit safai workers while manually cleaning an underground sewer in Thangadh municipality area of Surendranagar district earlier this month, a memorandum has been submitted to Governor O P Kohli seeking to arraign Chief Minister Vijay Rupani as an accused in the case. The letter alleged Rupani as Chief Minister failed to ensure prohibition on manual scavenging in Gujarat. On December 11, two safai workers — Mohit Solanki (26) and Dipak Sodha (25) — from Thangadh had died of asphyxiation due to presence of poisonous gas after they entered a sewer line in Thangadh municipality to clean it. Both Solanki and Sodha were daily wagers.
Following their death, a criminal case has been registered by Thangadh police against chief officer of the municipality B C Chauhan for allegedly forcing them to enter the sewer without safety gear. The chief officer of the municipality is facing penal charges under provisions of the IPC, the Scheduled Caste & Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Act. A complaint in this regard has been lodged by one Gelabhai Sodha, who works as a full-time safai worker with the municipality.
Keval Rathod, a human rights activist, said, “The complainant is a regular employee of the municipality and he has stated in his complaint that the chief officer forced the victims to go and clean the sewer line without safety equipment.” Rathod, along with many other locals from Thangadh, has submitted a memorandum to the Gujarat Governor seeking to arraign Rupani as an accused in the case.
“Under the provisions of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, manual scavenging has been prohibited. And as per data available through RTI applications, more than 200 Dalits have died while doing manual scavenging in the state in the last five years. As the head of the state, the CM is responsible for it,” Rathod said. The case is being investigated by Deputy Superintendent of Police P G Jadeja. However, so far, no arrest has been made in the case.
Jadeja said, “The complainant has named the chief officer of the municipality as an accused. How can we arrest him just because he has been named in the FIR? We will have to investigate as to who was the contractor who hired the deceased. We will ascertain it soon.”
Meanwhile, the Thangadh municipality has paid Rs 10 lakh each of the families of the two safai workers. This town falls in Chotila constituency which went to the Congress in the just-concluded election. Three Dalit youths were killed in police firing in Thangadh in September 2012. The government has not tabled the inquiry report on this incident in the Assembly.
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