'Forced to clean drains without safety gear': Coimbatore sanitation worker posts shocking video

A two-minute-long video of the worker clearing a blockage in a storm water drain without any protective equipment emerged on social media, after which the concerned sanitation supervisor was suspended.
Coimbatore conservancy worker Subramani
Coimbatore conservancy worker Subramani
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A conservancy worker in Coimbatore has alleged that he was forced to enter a storm water drain and clear a block without being given any protective equipment. The allegation was made by Subramani, a worker in the 78th ward of the Coimbatore Corporation. After a video of him clearing the drain surfaced on social media, the concerned sanitation officer was suspended by Coimbatore Corporation Commissioner Raja Gopal Sunkara.

In a video statement, Subramani said that there was a block in a drain located on the Perur main road. “Dharman, Senthilkumar and I were sent to clear the block. When we said that the block was inside the drain, we were told that’s why we were sent and asked to complete the task. So we did it. However, we were not provided any protective equipment. After the video of the incident emerged on social media, we were asked to sign a paper saying we did the work of our own accord,” he said.

“Around 700 houses would have been affected if the blockage was not removed,” Subramani said, while adding that the equipment provided to them frequently gets damaged due to the nature of their work and that they did not do the work voluntarily.

The incident took place on March 19. On the morning of Tuesday, March 22, the workers were asked to sign a blank paper by sanitation supervisor Manickam, they alleged. Dharman, who accompanied Subramani on this particular cleaning work, said that Manickam asked them to regularly send photos and videos of their work as “proof” that they were working. “After the video got leaked, he threatened to fire us. But the video was not leaked by us,” he added.

In a time and date-stamped video of the incident, a person – reportedly Subramani – is seen getting under a slab to enter a drain and saying “keep the cellphone safe”. In the nearly two-minute-long video, he is seen clearing the waste blocking the drain, climbing out and removing the garbage with a stick.

Speaking to TNM, Ambedkar Trade Union general secretary Tamil Nadu Selvam alleged that the workers are always asked to clear such blocks in drains without proper protective equipment. “We have filed several complaints with the Commissioner. Only some workers in places where Commissioner inspection takes place are given proper equipment. Otherwise, no one cares about it,” he alleged.

A conservancy worker from the 76th ward of the corporation also put forth the same allegation. “We are given gloves and covering for feet as protective equipment once every couple of months or when the contract changes from one person to another. However, the equipment does not last even for five days,” he said.

Selvam said that workers were constantly at risk, as this was happening on a regular basis. “Entering a drain without removing the slabs covering it and doing the cleaning work while another person takes a video is extremely risky. Once the block is removed, the water flows with so much force that it poses a threat to their lives,” he said.

When contacted, Manickam refuted the allegations and said that he had only asked for “before and after” photographs. Regarding protective gear, he said that it is provided but the workers do not wear it citing “inconvenience”. “In this case, I did not force him to do anything. I was not even there, you can see for yourself in the video,” Manickam said.

Meanwhile, Commissioner Raja Gopal Sunkara issued a press release stating that the concerned sanitation supervisor has been suspended and a committee under the corporation welfare officer has been set up to look into the incident.

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