BENGALURU: Why were three sanitation workers scrambled together in the middle of the night in Bengaluru and sent to clear an overflowing manhole, without safety measures or protective gear in place and which eventually led to their horrible death? It was because senior officials of the contracting firm Ramky Enterprises allegedly wanted the job to be done in a hurry so that BWSSB would clear a pending bill following an inspection of the manhole and their work the next day.
While the consequences proved fatal to the three workers and devastated their families, it also underlines the dismal conditions and pressure that these labourers have to put up with. On Monday night following rains in Bengaluru, Anjaneya Reddy, the supervisor who also died in the incident, was allegedly pressurised to fix the manhole in CV Raman Nagar by Ramky contractors. There was no time to make any arrangements, let alone get a jetting machine. The brief to the workers was clear: the manhole was clogged, had to be cleaned and it had to be a thorough job.
K B Obalesh from Scavengers Watchdog Committee said, "A relative of Anjaneya told us that on Monday evening, Anjaneya received a call from the MD of the firm to finish the work by midnight, as they have to get a bill from BWSSB after an inspection by its officials on Tuesday. Hence, Anjaneya hurried to the area with the other persons. They were unaware of the depth of the manhole, which is 12 feet, and died. This incident clearly happened under pressure."
Interestingly, Baiyappanahalli alone has two jetting machines. Admitting that a bill to Ramky Enterprises had been pending, BWSSB Chairman Tushar said, "Work to lay a sewage pipeline from KR Puram to Kadubeesanahalli was given to the agency three years ago. The firm claimed to have completed the work but it was found to be defective at some places. So we asked them to rectify it. We also issued a notice in this regard last week. We did not pay their bill and said if the work was not well-executed, we will not clear the bill."
Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 clearly prohibits manual scavenging. If at all a person must enter a manhole, the government has to notify the particular area. This has to be followed by the presence of fire brigade vehicle and ambulance with a doctor, and 32 safety tools. On Monday night, none of this was followed. Contractors with Ramky Enterprises did not respond to queries by Express.
No arrests yet
A day after the tragic incident, no arrests have been made. No BWSSB engineer or contractor of the firm has been named in the FIR. Even Ramky Enterprises finds no mention. Hemant Nimbalkar, additional commissioner of police (east) said,
"This is a suo motu case. We have written a letter to BWSSB seeking information about the officers assigned to carry out supervision of the job. Teams have been formed and investigations are under way. At the time of filing the complaint, no information was available."
KB Obalesh from Scavengers Watchdog Committee said, "The police say that the contractor is still in Hyderabad and hence have not been able to arrest him. Initially when the FIR was filed, it
was filed under section 304 of IPC alone. After we made a hue and cry, they filed a case under Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 as well. He alleged that the police wants to close the case by giving the families a compensation of Rs 10 lakh.