The police arrested Rajiv, manager of a private contract company, and Gopi Kannan, the supervisor who employed the men for manual scavenging.

Manual scavenging representative imageImage for Representation/PTI
news Manual Scavenging Sunday, February 28, 2021 - 18:10

In yet another case of death due to manual scavenging death, two men have been killed, this time, right inside the Tamil Nadu government’s central office. According to reports, the men — identified as Raja (40) and Santhosh (35) — died of asphyxiation while cleaning a septic tank at the MES Army office inside the Tamil Nadu Secretariat complex. The incident took place on Friday afternoon.

A report in the Times of India states that a total of five men were engaged in the cleaning of the septic tank. Santhosh reportedly fell unconscious after inhaling the poisonous gas. Raja, who tried to rescue him, too fell unconscious. While the two fell unconscious, another person, Venkatesh, managed to get out in time. The army officials on campus immediately took Raja and Santhosh to the Army hospital within the premises. However, they were declared dead.

According to The Hindu, the wife of one of the victims filed a complaint with the Chennai Fort police. The officials then registered a first information report (FIR) under the Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, Indian Penal Code section 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) and the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. The police arrested Rajiv, the manager of a private contract company, and Gopi Kannan, the supervisor who employed the men for manual scavenging.

“The men were employed by a private company that had entered into an agreement with the Military campus for such cleaning and construction activities. They also take care of civil construction and other work on the Military campus,” said a police officer who is part of the case.

The Secretariat is among the highly secure places in the city with its entry and exit points heavily guarded. Persons entering campus will have to produce id proof and state their purpose of visit. According to reports, even police officers could not immediately enter the campus on being alerted about the deaths.

With the deaths of Raja and Santhosh, six persons have lost their lives in the state to manual scavenging in February alone. Earlier this month, the Union government announced in the Parliament that Tamil Nadu stands at number two across the country for having the most number of manual scavenging deaths. Over the last five years, about 43 persons have been murdered by being employed for manual scavenging. This number, however, could be much higher, activists allege.

In 2017, the Madras High Court termed the practice of manual scavenging “a contravention of human rights and the right to live with dignity as per the Constitution of India.” It directed the Union and the state governments to ensure no person was engaged in manual scavenging. In 2018, the HC had also directed the Tamil Nadu government to pay 8% interest on compensation to the kin of manual scavenging victims, who had died since 1993. 

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