The two men were reportedly hired by a Chennai resident identified as Jayakumar of Varadharajapuram, to clean the tank at his home.

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news Death Thursday, January 20, 2022 - 15:54

Two men who were hired to clean a septic tank inside a house in Tambaram in Chennai died of asphyxiation due to the poisonous fumes emanating from the tank, the police in Chennai said on Thursday, January 20. The incident took place on Wednesday and the Manimangalam police have identified the victims as V Rajesh, aged 35, and A Ezhumalai, aged 40.

The two workers had entered an underground septic tank of a house for cleaning at Varadharajapuram near Tambaram. When TNM contacted the Manimangalam police, they said that the incident took place at the house of one Jayakumar, located in Varadharajapuram.

According to reports, Jayakumar had employed the duo for cleaning an overflowing tank, from which one load of sewage had been removed on Tuesday. When they had resumed their work on Wednesday, the suction tube was blocked and so Ezhumalai went in to clear the blockage. None of the workers had any protective equipment to guard them against the deadly fumes in the tank. 

According to a TNIE report, as soon as Ezhumalai entered the tank, he fainted. Rajesh, who went in to save Ezhumalai, also fell unconscious. Both died after inhaling poisonous gases.

After the Manimangalam police were informed, they retrieved the bodies with the assistance of Tambaram fire and rescue services personnel. Later, the bodies were sent to the Chrompet Government Hospital for an autopsy.

Manimangalam police have registered a case against Jayakumar under Sections 304-A of IPC (causing death due to negligence) and provisions of Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and Rehabilitation Act.

Engaging or employing a person for manual scavenging, either directly or indirectly, is a punishable offence under the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013. However, there have been multiple instances where people, especially those from poor socio-economic backgrounds, continue to be forced to carry out manual scavenging.

In December 2021, the Union Social Justice and Empowerment Ministry told the Parliament that the government has caste-related data of 43,797 persons identified as involved in manual scavenging, and over 42,500 of them belong to the Scheduled Castes. 

Responding to a question in the Rajya Sabha, Minister of State for Social Justice and Empowerment Ramdas Athawale said 42,594 (97.25%) of the people involved in manual scavenging belong to the Scheduled Castes, 421 to the Scheduled Tribes, and 431 to Other Backward Classes. While a total of 58,098 people involved in manual scavenging were identified in surveys, caste-related data was only available for 43,797 of them, he said.