The death of six men, including three from the same family and a well-meaning passerby by inhaling poisonous gases from a septic tank has left the people of Sriperumbudur in the outskirts of Chennai in a state of shock.
Krishnamoorthy (55), his wife and two sons Kannan (28) and Karthik (26) lived in Nemili Selvaperumal Nagar in Sriperumbudur. While the family lived on one of the floors, Krishnamoorthy had let the other portions in the building to other families for rent. Since this part of Sriperumbudur is yet to get underground drainage system, it was routine for Krishnamoorthy to make sure that the septic tank in his building was emptied at least once in few days. It was going to be no different this time either.
On Tuesday morning, as usual Krishnamoorthy had employed a sewage tanker to empty the septic tank. After the tanker lorry left, Krishnamoorthy spotted a small area inside the tank which required further cleaning and hence he got inside the tank to do it himself. As Kannan and Karthik watched, Krishnamoorthy fell unconscious within the tank. Karthik rushed inside the tank to get his father to respond and he also fainted inside the tank. Kannan, hoping to revive his brother and father, jumped into the tank and fell unconscious too.
Watching the disastrous scene unfold in front of their eyes, Krishnamoorthy’s family shouted for help and two of their tenants – Suradhabhai (28) and Paramasivam (32) – came running to help the three men. The two men, who also got inside the septic tank, fainted, taking the tally to five. Hearing the cries of the families of the men, Lakshmikanthan, who was delivering gas cylinder nearby, rushed to their help. The 22-year-old lad jumped into the tank to rescue the men but he also succumbed to the gases inside the tank.
Unable to believe what they were seeing, the neighbours and others who were nearby alerted the police, fire station and the ambulance. A fire engine reached the spot and pulled out all six men from the tank, but they were all reportedly dead by then. The Fire Department personnel also cleaned the poisonous tank with foam and sealed it shut.
Speaking to TNM about the incident Bezwada Wilson, the Founder and National Convenor of the Safai Karamchari Andholan (SKA) said that people set out to do such things due to lack of awareness about the technology available to clean septic tanks. “I would hold the state responsible for such deaths. People dying itself must bother us and it should not matter if they were actually manual scavenging workers or building owners who died while doing similar work,” he added.
The police registered an FIR under section 174 CrPC and sent all six bodies for autopsy to the government hospital in Sriperumbudur.