The deceased were identified as V Kalidas (67) and A Saravanan (49), who owned the house in which the ring well was located.

Two men cleaning a sewerImage for representation
news Crime Sunday, July 31, 2022 - 15:46

Two men died of asphyxiation while trying to clean a ring well in Perungudi, Chennai on Friday, July 29. The deceased were identified as V Kalidas (67) and A Saravanan (49), who owned the house in which the ring well was located. Police reports state that Saravanan had called Kalidas to clean the well in his house as there was a bad odour emanating from it. Kalidas went inside to clean the well and when Saravanan noticed that he had not returned after a few hours, the latter decided to check on him. The police stated that Saravanan could have entered the well to save Kalidas. Other members in Saravanan’s house noticed that both the men were unconscious and called an ambulance, when the paramedics declared them dead. The police also added that Kalidas was usually employed as a septic tank cleaner.

In light of this incident, a statement was issued by the Untouchability Prevention Front, which said that the police refused to file a case under the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act (2013) since Kalidas did not belong to a Scheduled Caste. The statement added, “Cleaning sewers and septic tanks are mostly done by labourers who are hired through contractors or as daily wage labourers. There is no use of machinery for this purpose. The state, Union and local governments have failed to focus on this issue. In other words, they have refused to focus on this issue. Machinery to clean sewers and septic tanks were neither invented nor have there been any efforts or funds to invent them.”

Earlier on July 18, writer and social justice activist A Marx, published a report regarding manual scavenging deaths in Tamil Nadu. The report mentions that there were four deaths in Chennai in the month of June 2022 alone, occurring two days apart, and the four men who died belonged to either Scheduled Castes or Most Backward Castes. The report also states that using machinery to clean sewers and septic tanks is the only way to prevent such deaths. Equipment that can detect the presence of poisonous gases in sewers or septic tanks must be made mandatory to prevent further deaths, the report adds.

Read: Two die in Chennai cleaning septic tanks, apartment manager arrested

Manual scavenging is banned under the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013. While this caste-based practice was first banned in India in 1993, it was made a punishable offence in 2013, where anyone employing a manual scavenger, directly or indirectly, would be punished with imprisonment for a term or a penalty which may extend to Rs 50,000, or both.

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