The toxic fumes from a septic tank led to the death of two manual scavengers in Tiruvallur district's Kakkalur Industrial Estate on Friday. The two men who belong to Scheduled Communities had entered a tank at the JIR Engineering Industry in the estate and were not given any protective gear.
According to the police, the tank was 10 feet deep and the two workers 40-year-old Velavan and 35-year-old Chandru had first emptied its contents before entering it to clean it. However, the duo fell unconscious and collapsed within minutes of entering the tank. An employee of the company who was supervising the activity called out to them repeatedly and when they did not respond he alerted his superiors. The Tamil Nadu Fire and Rescue services was called to pull them out of the tank but they were already dead by the time help arrived.
"The toxic fumes from the tank was responsible for their death is what preliminary investigation suggests," says an investigating official. "The bodies were sent for postmortem," he adds.
Friends and family of the victims also held protests following their deaths demanding action against the company which hired them and also compensation for their deaths.
"We have already arrested a manager named Kumar in connection to the case. The Revenue District Offical too has been contacted. They will get their compensation amount by tomorrow," a senior police official in the district told TNM.
Manual scavenging was outlawed in the country with the introduction of The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993. However, the practice continues illegally and Tamil Nadu has recorded the most number of such deaths between 2015 and 2018. In 2013, a legislation was brought into force prohibiting the employment of persons as manual scavengers and it includes an imprisonment of up to five years, for those employing a manual scavenger.
In November last year, a 25-year-old man named Arunkumar had died in a similar manner in a septic tank in Chennai's Express Avenue Mall. The contractor in the case had been arrested and booked under the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, Atrocities against SC/ST Act and section 304 (1) (Punishment for culpable homicide not amounting to murder).