In a horrifying incident, a 20-year-old sanitation worker’s body was recovered from a sewer line on November 30, 2021 in Varanasi district, Uttar Pradesh, 18 hours after he was reported missing after descending into the manhole. Colleagues told Amar Ujala that the administration has shown persisting negligence towards labour safety and security.
West Bengal resident Nawab Arif was called to clean a 10 feet deep manhole at Lahurabir crossroads on November 29 afternoon, along with three other contract workers. The youth was originally called on November 26 to put in iron plates and stop the outflow of sewage during the Shahi Nala diversion work. He was called on Monday when the sewer started to overflow again.
As per the statements of his fellow contract workers, on November 29, Arif was lowered into the sewer line with a rope. After he remained unresponsive for 30 minutes, they grew worried. When they pulled the rope, they realised Arif was caught in the rapid currents and reported the same to contractors. A National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) member told the Hindustan the worker’s leg was stuck and the high pressure in the sewer worsened the situation. Arif’s body was finally recovered at 6 AM on Tuesday.
Following a post-mortem, Arif’s family left for their hometown Malda for his final rites. The Jal Nigam department announced an ex-gratia amount of Rs. 10 lakh for the victim’s family. Meanwhile, Arif’s colleagues declared a strike alleging gross administrative negligence.
In response to worker’s ire, Jal Nigam Ganga Pollution Control Unit General Manager Phanindra Rai announced an investigative team will look into the incident. Members will provide a report on whether the concerned organisation had the required safety and security resources for the worker. Another question to be considered is why Arif was lowered into the manhole at all, if the sewer was overflowing.
However, Arif’s colleagues and families accused the Jal Nigam of rushing the project under higher influence and overlooking workers’ security. Dismissing the investigation as a ruse, Jal Nigam Thekedaar Sangharsh Samiti members said that at least six labourers died in the last five years due to the negligence of the department.
In 2017, a man and his nephew died in Pilikothi. Similarly, Bihar resident Chandan and Shivpur’s local Rajesh died near the Pandeypur Kali temple on March 1, 2019. NDTV reported the incident happened days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi washed the feet of sanitation workers during his visit to Kumbh, Prayagraj.
In light of all this, it is shocking that the central government in July stated that no deaths pertaining to manual scavenging were reported in the last five years. In doing so, officials had contradicted previous claims from February 2, 2021 that the reported number of deaths stood at 340 across 19 States, with Uttar Pradesh topping the list at 52 deaths.
On Tuesday, the Union gathered at the office near Varuna bridge where they demanded that the district administration address the life-endangering threats faced by sewer cleaners.
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Centre claims that nobody died due to manual scavenging reported in the last 5 years!
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