As Bengaluru witnessed light showers on Monday night, a manhole outside the Dominos Pizza outlet in the CV Raman Nagar locality began overflowing. The manhole connected to the Kaggadasapura lake had to be decongested, and two men were asked to get into the 15 feet pipe.
According to initial reports, three men, Yerraiah (35), Anjaneya Reddy (34) and Dhavathi Naidu (40), all working for Ramkay enterprises, a contractor employed by BWSSB reached the spot after midnight. One of the men went into the manhole in the wee hours of the morning, at around 12.30am, without any protective gear.
When the first man did not come out of the hole, another man entered.
Soon, the two men could not breathe as the deathly fumes engulfed them. Hearing their screams for help, their driver, Dhavathi Naidu (40), also entered the manhole.
Naidu was not able to rescue his colleagues, and all three of them died.
The bodies were retrieved a few hours later.
The contractor, who is responsible for the safety of workers and is mandated to ensure that they use protective gear, is absconding. The police are on the lookout for the owners of Ramkay enterprises, who are based out of Andhra Pradesh.
A case has been filed against BBMP and BWSSB under IPC 304 (rash or negligent act resulting in culpable homicide) at the Bypanahalli police station in the city.
BWSSB Chief Engineer Manjunath told TNM that the contractor had not informed the board. Washing their hands off the incident, the Engineer said that BWSSB would never have employed manual scavengers.
Joint Director, Social Welfare Department, Laxman Reddy told TNM, "According to the Prohibition of Manual Scavenging Act, people should not be deployed to clean manholes. The BWSSB has jetting machines just for this purpose. It was sheer negligence on the contractor's behalf. The three men were not even given masks to protect themselves. The contractor must have had some knowledge about how dangerous it is. Despite that, he chose to send the men in. This is murder."
All authorities concerned made feeble noises, pinning all the blame on the contractor, apportioning nothing to themselves.
"There are machines that have to be used for cleaning and de-congesting manholes. The contractor should have used that. The BWSSB and BBMP officials should be more careful in hiring contractors. Investigation is on and stringent action will be taken against those responsible for the deaths," said Bengaluru Development minister KJ George.
"We have constantly advised officials and administrators to warn the contractors of the dangers involved in manual scavenging and also make it known that it is illegal and will not be tolerated. This is gross negligence and action will be taken against those responsible. Negligence case has been filed against BBMP and BWSSB. We will take this matter seriously," Mayor G Padmavati said.
The bodies of the three men, all hailing from Andhra Pradesh, have been shifted to Bowring hospital in the city.