Manual scavenging worker dies while cleaning septic tank in Chennai's Express Avenue

He was among the five manual scavengers illegally employed by a private agency to clean a septic tank within the mall premises.
Manual scavenging worker dies while cleaning septic tank in Chennai's Express Avenue
Manual scavenging worker dies while cleaning septic tank in Chennai's Express Avenue

A 25-year-old man died on Tuesday morning in Chennai at the Express Avenue Mall after he entered a septic tank within the premises to rescue his brother. He was part of a crew of manual scavengers employed by a private agency to carry out this illegal work.

According to the police, a man named Dhandapani had taken five men — Arunkumar, Ranjithkumar, Yuvaraj, Ajithkumar and Sreenath —  to Express Avenue Mall at 4 am to clean the septic tank. Of the five, Ranjithkumar first entered the septic tank and was cleaning it when he fainted inside due to the poisonous gases. On seeing this, 25-year-old Arunkumar, Ranjithkumar's brother, immediately jumped in to rescue him.

Arunkumar managed to get in and push his brother out. But by then, he was affected by the toxic fumes and died. His body is currently at the Royapettah Government hospital for an autopsy.

However, Anna Salai police who are handling the case have refused to divulge details of whether an FIR has been filed. Arunkumar's death adds to the state's list of shame and highlights its inability to put an end to the inhumane practice of manual scavenging.

Tamil Nadu already has the ignominy of having recorded the highest number of deaths due to manual scavenging in the last five years. The death count in Tamil Nadu stood at 144 – more than double the number of casualties reported by Uttar Pradesh, the state that recorded the second-highest number of deaths.

This information was released by the Union Minister of State for Social Justice and Empowerment Ramdas Athawale in February in Lok Sabha to a series of questions posed by Mullapally Ramachandran, a Congress MP from Kerala.

The MP had requested the Minister to provide the number of deaths of workers engaged in sewer cleaning in the last five years (till December 31, 2018). In the list provided by the Union Minister, Tamil Nadu recorded 144 deaths from 2013 to 2018 followed by Uttar Pradesh which recorded 71 deaths in the same period. The Minister also stated that out of the 144 deaths reported from Tamil Nadu, compensation of Rs 10 lakh each has been disbursed to the victim’s families in 141 cases. The reply also mentions that except Karnataka, Rajasthan and Delhi, no other state has filed FIRs on the employers for engaging people for manual scavenging.

Manual scavenging was outlawed in the country in 1993 with the introduction of The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993. However, the practice continues illegally throughout the country. Moreover, in 2013, further legislation prohibiting the employments of persons as manual scavengers not only bans employment of people to clean human waste but also includes an imprisonment of up to five years, for those employing a manual scavenger.

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