On 7th morning, at 12.30 am, two young men, were asked to enter a manhole in Kagadasapura main road, right beside the DRDO centre for Artificial intelligence and Robotics, Bengaluru which works under the Ministry of Defence, towards “enhancing self-reliance in Defence Systems and undertakes design and development leading to production of world class weapon systems and equipment”.
The primary employer of these two men, is the Chief Engineer of Bengaluru Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB), Mr, Chandrasekhar who had sub-contracted to Ramky Enterprises as part of the City Municipal Council project of the BWSSB.
Two of the men who are registered by the State government, as being engaged in manual scavenging, entered the manhole that is 10 feet in length. Neither of the men had been given any form of safety equipment. Both men died instantaneously. Anjaneya Reddy, the driver went to help the men and also died. The bodies are now in the Bowring hospital post mortem.
The three men are migrant labourers from Andhra Pradesh. Eeraiah age 34 years is from Prakasham district in Andhra Pradesh and Devatha Naidu age 40 years is from Srikakulam. The driver, Anjaneya Reddy, aged 34 years is from Srikakulam. The bodies of the three men have been shifted to Bowring hospital for post-mortem examination. The families of the three men have been informed and are on their way to Bengaluru from Andhra Pradesh.
Manual Scavenger means ‘a person engaged or employed on regular or frequent basis by an individual or a local authority or a public or private agency, for manually cleaning, carrying, disposing of, or otherwise handling in any manner, human excreta in an insanitary latrine or in an open drain or pit into which human excreta from insanitary latrines is disposed of, or on a railway track, before the excreta fully decomposes.”
Section 7 of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, expressly prohibits employment of persons for hazardous cleaning of a sewers or septic tanks and any contravention of this section is cognizable and a non-bailable offence under section 9 of the above Act. The main aspects of the Act are eradication, rehabilitation, legal action and implementation. Legal action is to be initiated against those employing anyone for manual scavenging. Additionally, offences are made out under section 3(1) (j) of the Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989 as amended in 2016, as well as under IPC sec 304. Every local authority (Sec 4(1) within 2 months of the Act has been expected to carry out a survey of insanitary latrines and publish the list. They were directed to give notice to demolish or convert insanitary to sanitary latrines and this includes municipalities, cantonment boards and railway authorities. It prohibits construction of new insanitary latrines and discharging those involved in manual scavenging from this occupation. No person, local authority or agency can hire persons for hazardous cleaning of a sewer or septic tank. For employment of hazardous cleaning of sewer or septic tank, the penalty for first offence is upto 2 years in jail and/ or a fine of 2 lakhs. For a second offence, the term could extend to five years and/or a fine of five lakhs.
Health consequences of exposure to sewer gas.
Sewer gas consists of varying levels of toxic and non-toxic gases depending on the source and results from decomposition of household and industrial waste. Hydrogen sulfide, methane and ammonia are the main components. Exposure even to small levels of hydrogen sulfide causes irritation of the eyes and respiratory tract, headaches, nausea, drowsiness and dizziness. Even higher concentration can lead to olfactory fatigue which means the person has loss of sense of smell, inspite of the highly characteristic rotten egg odour of hydrogen sulfide. At high levels, hydrogen sulfide is highly fatal. This is aggravated in the presence of and in combination with methane, which decreases oxygen levels especially in closed spaces. On inhalation, the gas is rapidly absorbed and causes irritation of mucous membranes and the respiratory tract, leading almost immediately to pulmonary edema. There is often immediate loss of consciousness, coma, respiratory paralysis, seizures and death.
Hydrogen sulfide is a mucous membrane and respiratory tract irritant; pulmonary edema, which may be immediate or delayed, can occur after exposure to high concentrations. Symptoms of acute exposure include nausea, headaches, delirium, disturbed equilibrium, tremors, convulsions, and skin and eye irritation. Inhalation of high concentrations of hydrogen sulfide can produce extremely rapid unconsciousness and death. Exposure to the liquified gas can cause frostbite injury. Prolonged exposure of skin to hydrogen sulfide causes burning, itching and painful inflammation of the skin. Eye irritation can occur leading to keratoconjunctivitis- symptoms of which are blurred vision, light sensitivity, spasms of eyelids and permanent scarring of the cornea. Long term exposure is known to cause permanent damage to the brain with psychological disorders. In pregnant women, exposure creates an increased risk of spontaneous abortion.
There is a protest underway at Bowring hospital post mortem department demanding that an FIR be lodged and criminal action initiated against the Chief Engineer of BWSSB, Chandrasekhar as primary accused and the contractor, Ramki enterprises as secondary accused.
These deaths have occurred right next to the DRDO which claims that “DRDO while striving to meet the cutting edge weapons technology requirements provides ample spin off benefits to the society at large thereby contributing to the nation building.” It holds a mirror the duality of ‘development’ in India – cutting edge research comfortably co-existing with men whose lives hold such little value to the government and society.
For further details contact
K B Obalesh – 9742586468, State Covenor, Safai Karmachari Kaval Samiti, Karnataka