BENGALURU: Seven months after two labourers died in a waste water treatment plant of a hotel in AECS Layout due to asphyxiation, the authorities are yet to issue safety guidelines on how apartment blocks can have their sewage treatment plants (STPs) and septic tanks cleaned, repaired or maintained.
The lack of guidelines — inevitably meaning lack of awareness among the apartment dwellers on safety protocols — means similar deaths waiting to happen every now and then. Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) chief Lakshman told City Express, “The guidelines on these STPs have been made, but are yet to be uploaded online. It will be applicable to all apartments. The first round of giving instructions and directions has already been done in the Hebbal area.”
But the delay exposes the vulnerability of those entering these tanks to clean or maintain them on orders by apartment associations.Over eight people have died in the last two years due to lack of safety measures or guidelines around the use of sewage treatment plants.Despite the deaths and although STPs and dual-piping systems have been made mandatory for all apartments having 50 and more dwelling units in Bengaluru, there are no regulations or a monitoring mechanism to keep checks on usage and maintenance of STPs.
No check on who does the job?
In most instances, apartment associations hire labourers who do other odd jobs to work on the tanks. As in the tragic January 2018 case, the three individuals who were hired to do the job by the apartment in Somasundrapalya, HSR Layout, had no experience in cleaning STPs/septic tanks, which spew carbon monoxide besides a range of poisonous gases that cause painless and almost sudden death to anyone entering these tanks.
Deceased Mahadeva Gowda worked as a pest control worker, while the other two — Narayana Swamy and Srinivasan — worked as an electrician and painter, respectively. Their families said none of them had expertise on cleaning a sewage tank, and perhaps it was the offer of `2,000 to do the job that lured them.
One of the residents of the apartment complex, when asked whether they followed guidelines or even checked to see whether people on the job had any expertise in the matter, said the electrician was called in to remove the sludge, and in the process, fell into the pit, while the other two followed to help him.
In fact, there are at least 30 agencies in the city with expertise providing contractual services for maintaining STPs. However, KB Obalesh, state convenor of Safaikarmachari Kavulu Samithi-Karnataka, said, “Most apartments do not hire professional agencies, but engage casual workers for maintenance work, especially in areas towards Whitefield, where BWSSB still doesn't provide sewerage connections.”
Siddharth KJ, member of Safaikarmachari Kavulu Samithi, says that there are no guidelines that have been issued to these apartments. “They are issuing permission, but there aren't any requirements as to how they need to be maintained. The only thing is that when the STP is being built, permission has to be taken by KSPCB, and before the operation of the STP, another permission needs to be taken from them. They will come and check the quality of the treated water, that's the only thing they monitor. They don't monitor how they are cleaning it, how they are monitoring it, what are the professional agencies they hire from, none of that. Even when filing for permission, they don't have to produce any contract or any agreement — nothing of that sort.”
Srikanth Narasimhan, general secretary of Bangalore Apartments' Federation, says there is no established and set process laid down by anybody on the usage of STPs. "The pollution control board should lay down guidelines if they want people to manage their STPs. Right now, we don't have any. Apartments just talk to vendors, and vendors follow best practices. But there are no guidelines,” he adds.
Shahsidhara, who works at one of the expert agencies, Maruthi Enterprises, said they provide workers to clean STPs as per demands from apartment dwellers. However, there are no guidelines from the government so far. “We just send workers to the respective areas as demanded,” he said.
“None of the agencies have issued any guidelines for maintenance of STPs, but the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act 2013 mandates that human beings should not be manually cleaning sewage,” Obalesh said.