In August, three labourers died due to asphyxiation in Hyderabad after they entered a manhole to work.

Two months after manual scavengers died in a Hyd manhole has anything changedImage for representation: PTI
news Manual Scavenging Friday, October 21, 2016 - 16:19

It has been two months since Srinivas, Satyanarayana and Nagesh, three daily-wage labourers, died due to asphyxiation in Hyderabad's Madhapur area after they entered a manhole to work.

A cab driver, who tried to help them, also died after inhaling poisonous gas in the 11.5ft deep, and 3.5ft wide manhole.

The incident, which took place on August 13, had provoked outrage at the time, after it was learnt that the sub-contractor had used unskilled labourers and none of the workers were provided with security equipment.

(A photo of the manhole after the bodies were retrieved)

Despite this, there has been no headway in the case.

According to reports, the Hyderabad Metro Water Supply & Sewerage Board (HMW&SB) had allotted the job to contractor Loka Reddy, who was blacklisted after a pedestrian fell into a nearby manhole and was washed away in June.

However, the government reportedly claimed that he undertook this task without permission

Loka Reddy is then said to have appointed a sub-contractor who employed the three unskilled workers.

Two investigations were ordered at the time – one by then Ranga Reddy Joint Collector, Rajat Kumar Saini, and another by HMWS&SB Director-Projects, M Yella Swamy.

The government had also announced compensation of Rs 2.5 lakh for the family of each victim.

While the joint collector has now been transferred due to the reorganisation of districts in Telangana, neither of the reports have been filed.

Speaking to the Times of India, HMWS&SB Managing Director M Dana Kishore said:

“Till date, I have not received the findings of the probe in the manhole mishap. I spoke to Rajat Kumar Saini a few days before he was transferred and he told me that the probe was completed, but still had to compile the report. We will pursue the issue. Once we receive the report, we will initiate action against the agency and the erring officials.”

As far as the internal probe was concerned, Kishore told TOI “The official has not yet submitted his report, but according to an interim report, the agency concerned was at fault. In view of the seriousness of the mishap, we have transferred a general manager, who was supervising and implementing the sewer trunk main.”

No lessons learnt?

Manual scavenging is banned under the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act 2013.

Talking about what the inside of a manhole is like, Firstpost reported:

Apart from the excreta, there are broken glass pieces and syringes which can pierce the body and aggressive rodents that can bite. Even though it is mandatory for the contractor to provide the workers with protective gears including gloves, boots, oxygen masks and goggles, either they are not provided or the workers prefer to work without them as they do not get a good grip with gloves. The payment is a meagre Rs 300 to 500 for a day's work.

After the August incident, the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) had officially banned the manual cleaning of drainage lines in the city, stating that only machines should be used. 

However, even today many contractors allegedly use manual labour to clean these drains.

Just last week, a 35-year-old man was sent in to clean a six-foot-deep manhole in Panjagutta.

The man, reportedly identified as Srinivas, was paid Rs 300 for the job and accepted it, despite being aware of the Madhapur incident. 

When confronted, the HMW&SB employee in charge claimed that "he knew what he was doing," and that he had been a manual scavenger for many years and had gone into much deeper pits.

According to the 2011 Socio Economic and Caste Census, an estimated eight lakh people were working as manual scavengers in the country.


Also read - Won't you help a minister stuck in a manhole?: Wife of manual scavenger who died crying for help


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