Karnataka: Two manual scavengers choke to death in a manhole

The third worker, who survived is now battling for his life in the hospital

Two manual scavengers choke to death in a manhole
Representation Image | Courtesy: Vikas Choudhary

In a shocking incident, two manual scavengers choked to death in a manhole at Kailas Nagar of Kalaburagi in Karnataka. The deceased were brothers, and another sanitation worker who has been admitted to a hospital is their relative, reported Deccan Herald.

The deceased brothers have been identified as Lal Ahmed (30) and Rasheed Ahmed (25), residents of Azadpur Road of the City who were working as labourers with Karnataka Urban Water Supply and Drainage Board (KUWSDB). The incident is said to have taken place as the manhole is about 18-feet deep. Ahmed Sab, the father of the deceased is also a KUWSDB civic worker.

An eye witness told Deccan Herald, “The trio workers entered the manhole to remove a clog on Thursday afternoon. They collapsed due to the lack of oxygen and didn’t respond to the people’s screaming who were standing near the manhole. Sensing trouble, fire and emergency services persons were called. An earth mover dug around the manhole and the trio workers who slipped into unconsciousness were retrieved. They were immediately admitted to the GIMS. Two were declared brought dead”.

In her statement, the Kalaburagi Mahanagara Palike Commissioner Snehal Sudhakar Lokhande said the mishap occurred in a under construction Under Ground Drainage (UGD) but not in the manhole. Their death led to subsequent protests by locals outside the hospital.

The KUWSDB has been informed about the incident and it will soon announce compensation for the families. Media also reported that the corporation will first conduct an inquiry into the incident and stern action will be taken against the officials if found guilty.

Although the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 recognises that manual scavenging is a ‘dehumanising’ practice which arises from continued existence of unsanitary latrines and a ‘highly iniquitous caste system’, very little has been done to rectify the illegal practice.

The National Safai Karamchari Commission had revealed that from 2010 to March 2020, 631 sewer and septic tank cleaners had lost their lives and the highest number of deaths was reported in 2019 at a whopping 115.

On 19 November, last year, the Government of India undertook some key measures to amend the manual scavenging laws, making the cleaning of septic tanks and sewers mechanised, replacing the word ‘manhole’ with ‘machine hole’ and setting up a dedicated national helpline to register complaints and provide solutions on desludging and overflow.  

The Government had announced that their aim is to eliminate manual scavenging across the country by August 2021. Shri Hardeep Singh Puri, Minister of State, Independent Charge, Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs ensured that no person needs to enter a sewer or septic tank, “unless absolutely unavoidable in the interest of greater public hygiene.”

A petition filed by All India Council of Trade Unions (AICTU) and High Court Legal Services Committee before the Karnataka High Court prayed to discontinue the practice of allowing/forcing sanitary workers to physically enter manholes, sewer lines, septic tanks etc. and to direct the State and Union Government to give a report on the action taken by them for removal of the inhuman practice and the implementation of the provisions of the Act. The petition also concerned itself with the incident of three manual scavengers who died due to suffocation, while cleaning a pit in an apartment complex at Bengaluru.

The court had strictly observed that, “We have found that there is hardly any implementation of the provisions of the Manual Scavengers Act and the Rules in the State of Karnataka…The preamble of the Constitution shows that the Constitution seeks to protect the dignity of an individual. There can be no dispute that manual scavenging is most inhuman and it infringes the fundamental rights guaranteed under Article 21.”

The Division Bench had issued a slew of directions to the State Government and also the Union for appropriate records and surveys in the same regard. The matter will be taken up on February 2, 2021.


Manual Scavengers Act: Karnataka HC issues directions over implementation

Govt aims to eliminate manual scavenging by August 2021



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