HYDERABAD: The death of two labourers while cleaning a manhole at Boggulkunta near Ramkote on May Day underlines the fact that manual scavenging still thrives in the state.
Though the practice has been banned in the country, hundreds are forced to take up this degrading work to sustain their lives.
While the working class in the city was busy celebrating May Day, expressing solidarity with labour movements across the globe, Veera Swamy and Kotaiah, two workers, perished cleaning the sewers, bringing to fore the dark reality of manual scavenging.
The cause of death: asphyxiation due to lack of oxygen and an excess of methane gas while cleaning a 15-foot-deep manhole, a practice which is largely condemned and even prohibited under the Prohibition of Employment of Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013.
Taking cognisance of the incident, the Labour department has decided to launch a probe and also sensitise the municipal corporation and the Water Board.
"The practice of cleaning drainage manually doesn't come under the purview of labour department. However, we will inquire into the incident and will ensure that the families of the deceased get a compensation from the employer under Section 10 A of Employees Compensation Act. We can look at whether proper safety measures were taken up," said E Gangadhar, joint labour commissioner, Hyderabad. According to him, the issue comes under the purview of Safai Karamchari Commission.
The plight of these workers are nothing but inhumane, said K Eshwar Rao, city president, Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU). "They often complain that government departments don't provide required equipment for manual scavenging, and don't take any precautions. Equipment like face masks, gloves, torch lights etc are available but only on papers," he stated.
Eswar Rao also said his union had submitted representations to Hyderabad Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board (HMWS&SB) many a time to end manual scavenging.
"They assure to take all precautions, but don't act on them. And such deaths occur regularly," Eshwar Rao said adding that the workload increases manifold ahead of rainy season.
Cleaning up the vast network of underground drainage lines laid during Nizam era, ahead of the monsoon season every year, has been a practice by the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation.
The works are often outsourced to contractors. After an untoward incident two years ago, when a labourer was washed away while cleaning the drain near Secunderabad, in the month of May, the then GHMC commissioner had spoken against the practice of sending labourers inside the drains for cleaning and directed the engineering wing to make use of equipment.
Also, in May 2013, a contract worker of the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation, and another person who went in to rescue the former who had fallen inside a 15-foot deep manhole near Hitex at Madhapur died due to asphyxiation.
2 Workers Found Dead in Manhole
Hyderabad: In a tragic incident, two labourers were found dead in a manhole at Kapadia Lane in the Sultan Bazar area of the city on Sunday. According to the police, they received a call from locals informing them that two persons, who entered a manhole for cleaning had not come out. Police rushed to the spot and found the two men dead inside the manhole. The deceased were identified as Veera Swamy and Kotaiah, said Sultan Bazar inspector Shiva Shankar Rao. “The bodies were sent for postmortem. It appears that they died due to inhalation of poisonous gas. We will get clear a picture after postmortem,” he said. Rao said they are inquiring into who engaged them for work. Meanwhile, Hyderabad Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board (HMWSSB) authorities claimed ignorance about the incident. Officials said that the two workers who died in Boggulkunta sub-division near Ramkote, did not belong to HMWS&SB and were brought from the nearby labour adda. A press release said that the water board DGM went to the spot and reported that there was no complaint received either in MCC or section complaints register. Preliminary enquiry does not reveal as to who engaged the labourers for the job, the release said.