Almost four months since three daily wage labourers died after they entered a manhole of the Hyderabad Metro Water Supply & Sewerage Board (HMW&SB) in Madhapur area, yet another person has died of suffocation while cleaning a manhole in JNNURM colony on Monday.
The deceased was identified as 32 year old T Narsing Rao.
“On Monday, the residents hired three men, including Narsing, to clean the overflowing manhole in a block of the colony,” said Inspector J Narender, Hayathnagar.
Narsing had opened the manhole and was checking the blockage with a stick. He leaned inside to get a better view and became unconscious.
“His friends called him but Narsing did not respond. They rushed to check on him but he was already dead by then. He might have inhaled poisonous gases inside the manhole and died of suffocation. All of them were also drunk," Narendra added.
Earlier in August, three daily wage labourers, Srinivas, Satyanarayana and Nagesh, died due to asphyxiation in Hyderabad's Madhapur area after they entered a 11.5ft deep, and 3.5ft wide manhole to work.
A cab driver, who tried to help them, also died after inhaling poisonous gas.
The sub-contractor had used unskilled labourers without providing them with security equipment or any protective gear.
Even after manual scavenging was banned under the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act 2013, several manual scavengers continue to risk their lives in order to make a living.
According to the Socio Economic and Caste Census 2011 (SECC-2011) data of manual scavengers released by the Ministry of Rural Development, a total of 553 manual scavengers have been identified in both the Telugu states.
Andhra Pradesh has around 388 identified manual scavengers while Telangana has 165.
However, according to The Hindu, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment has revealed that a total of 45,822 people clean the night soil in AP and Telangana. These labourers are beneficiaries of various welfare schemes for which manual scavengers are eligible.
Speaking to The News Minute, Bezwada Wilson, Magsaysay Award winner and founder and national convener of Safai Karmachari Andolan, says, “The data is wrong, in Hyderabad alone there are around 4000 manual scavengers. How can any data say that across the state there are less than 200? The number is much higher than what the data reveals.”
Another The Hindu report suggests that the mismatch between the number of dry latrines and the number of manual scavengers indicates the State governments' failure to identify the actual number of manual scavengers. For instance, Telangana reported 1,57,321 dry latrines in 2015, but zero manual scavengers.
“The cleaning of septic tank and sewer line still exists in Hyderabad and has claimed the lives of many manual scavengers. The state government should come forward with an action plan that would mechanise drainage cleaning. They should introduce new technology for the cleaning. Also, it is the responsibility of the government to identify and rehabilitate all the manual scavengers in the country and provide them other jobs. But rather than doing this, officers are denying that they hire manual scavengers. That is one of the reasons why the number of manual scavengers is less in government data,” Wilson says.
He also says that manual scavengers hardly earn between Rs.2000 to Rs.5000 a month. Wilson affirms that it is their right to lead a dignified life with a better salary and that it is the government's duty to pay more attention to the issue.