In a tragic incident on Sunday, 20-year-old Sandeep and 21-year-old Akhilesh Yadav, both migrant workers from Uttar Pradesh engaged in laying pipes, died at the Varthur lakebed in Bengaluru as the earth suddenly caved in.
Despite rescue efforts carried out by other workers, the two could not be saved. Three others were also injured in the accident. Three people have been booked under IPC Section 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) in connection with the incident.
Sandeep and Akhilesh were laying pipes for the ambitious and controversial project of the Karnataka government, which aims to transfer treated wastewater (in secondary treatment plants) from Varthur Lake to lakes in Kolar and Chikkaballapur districts.
But what cost Akhilesh and Sandeep their lives?
Speaking to TNM, veteran civil engineer and independent consultant KV Dinesh suggested it is highly likely that a procedural lapse resulted in the disaster.
“If the contractor and employer both follow the Indian (IS) codes, these things should not occur. These are standard procedures which are clearly written down. But, most contractors do not follow them. In my opinion, they are the last ones to blame as they are here to do business,” he said.
Dinesh also stressed on the need for stringent supervision from government departments.
“You get what you supervise for. In lakebeds, the soil is flimsy — mostly silt and clay — and they are most prone to collapse. This is not the same for rocky or soft rock terrain, where the trench walls will hold. In an urban built-up area or a lake shore, it will crumble.”
“So, the standard technical procedure of ‘shoring’ is followed. Wooden buttresses or more professionally, a network steel tubes are used to protect the trench walls. In vulnerable conditions such as floodplains or lakebeds, there is a need for bolted steel plates,” he added.
Dinesh said that although the designs of the Irrigation Department usually have high standards, their execution is often poor due to lack of proper supervision and scrutiny.
However, the Minor Irrigation Department’s Executive Engineer Krishnappa denied that negligence was a regular occurrence.
"It is an accidental death. We can't say it is negligence. We have constructed similar pipelines in 55 km of the 56 km project. We have never seen such problems," he told TNM.
Claiming that the department has followed safety measures thoroughly, he said, "Even we are affected by the lives lost, and we are doing everything in our power to help. We can't change what has happened. We are pained by the incident. Maybe there was a little bit of negligence. Sometimes we cannot gauge, but usually, all working precautions were taken."
Whitefield DCP Abdul Ahad said that investigations were still on.
“We are investigating if standard procedures were followed and if precautions were not taken. Only after a thorough investigation can we tell their exact roles,” he said.
Officials of the contractor could not be reached for a comment.