“They told us it would be safe to climb down the manhole. We did not expect anyone to die. Had I known what kind of danger it posed, I would have never let my son climb down the manhole,” says 52-year-old Murthy, whose son, 17-year-old Anjanappa was one of the two people who died in a manhole in Karnataka’s Shivamogga district.
On Monday afternoon, around 1.30 pm, 37-year-old Venkatesh was made to tie a rope around his waist and enter a 15-ft deep manhole on New Mandli Road in Shivamogga city to unclog it. Simultaneously, other drains and channels nearby were also being cleared. Little did Venkatesh know that the sewage from the other clogged drains would gush into the manhole as he was climbing down.
Soon, the manhole was flooded with sewage and Venkatesh could not be reached. In order to help Venkatesh, 17-year-old Anjanappa was sent down the manhole, and he too lost his life within minutes of entering the manhole while sub-contractor Thippeswamy stood outside, watching the events unfurl.
“My son had gone it at around 1.30 pm and until the fire department officers came, no one informed me that my son was in danger and could have possibly died. I realised that my son was dead only when they fished out the bodies an hour later. All of us had told Thippeswamy that we would not go inside the manhole, but he forced us to,” an inconsolable Murthy says.
Venkatesh and Anjanappa were made to enter the manhole without any protective gear by a private agency was entrusted with the task to ensure that all the workers had safety equipment, according to corporator Ideal Gopi.
Venkat Sai Associates, the private agency, had won the contract for extending the underground drainage system from the Karnataka Urban Water Supply and Drainage Board.
The Andhra Pradesh-based company had further sub-contracted a person named Prasad, who, in turn, hired Thippeswamy, a mason, to gather manpower to unclog the drains.
On Sunday, Thippeswamy brought in 12 people from Davangere’s Bilachodu village who were to stay in Shivamogga until the work was completed. While the police have filed a case of criminal negligence against Prasad, Thippeswamy and Venkat Sai Associates at the Shivamogga Doddapete Police Station, they are waiting for the autopsy report.
“The two men could have died after inhaling toxic fumes or they could have drowned due to the sewage build up,” the Shivamogga police said.
“Just because we are poor and didn’t know that we were supposed to be given safety gear, the contractor thought he could make more money by not investing in the masks or hire a jetting machine. They just played with our lives and I could do nothing to save my son,” Murthy says as he curses Thippeswamy.
Murthy sat in protest outside the police station on Monday afternoon. Soon, Shivamogga Mayor Nagaraj Kankari and Shivamogga MLA KS Eshwarappa arrived and consoled Murthy. The Mayor promised to pay Rs 10 lakh as compensation to the families of both victims, and the Labour Department has said that they will pay Rs 8 lakh to each family.