‘Made to Wear Safety Gear for Photos’: Man Dies While Cleaning Chennai Mall Sewer
New Delhi: A detailed report by The News Minute on the death of a 25-year-old man in the sewer of a Chennai mall reveals startling facts on the reality of those engaged in manual scavenging in the state with the most number of deaths resulting from the banned practice.
The report, in the scope of which the deceased man Arunkumar’s brother Ranjith is interviewed, chronicles the events on Monday night when the two brothers were deployed along with three others to “clean two water tanks and a septic tank” in the basement of Chennai’s Express Avenue mall. By the time it was morning, Arun was dead and Ranjith was severely ill from noxious fumes given off by a fluid which rushed into the container the five were working in. Arun had tried to save his brother, but collapsed after helping Ranjith out.
The brothers, who are from a Dalit family, did not know that manual scavenging was illegal. They had been doing it for a long time to augment their family income. Both were school dropouts and had full time jobs as electricians and car repairmen. Their night’s fees were Rs 600 each.
The most startling fact to emerge from the report was the ‘use’ of safety gear.
“The contractor made us wear the safety mask, gloves and boots provided by Express Avenue and pose for a photo. After it was taken, he told us to take it all off, before going into the tank. He said it would be wasted if we used it. This was a regular practice,” Ranjith was quoted by News Minute as having said.
Contractors, it emerged, often did not want safety gear to become ‘dirty’, opting for the photo route to make sure that the rules were complied with.
This was not the only way in which the mall could be held complicit in Arun’s death. Ranjith told the news portal that when the contractor who engaged them called the mall’s safety officials, the latter did not attempt to save his brother immediately. “Instead of rescuing my brother immediately, they were squabbling over who will enter the tank. They wasted close to an hour arguing, till Dhandapani (the contractor) was forced to go in himself. If they had acted sooner, they could have saved my brother,” Ranjith was quoted as having said.
The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, holds the practice of manual scavenging illegal.
Anna Salai police have filed cases against Dhandapani and unnamed safety officials of the mall under the 2013 Act, along with the Atrocities against SC/ST Act and Section 304 (1) (punishment for culpable homicide not amounting to murder) of the Indian Penal Code.
According to the Socio-Economic Caste Census 2011, Tamil Nadu had only 334 manual scavengers. However, after the MS Act took effect in 2013, the state conducted a census-like survey to identify manual scavengers.
Courtesy : The Wire