VIJAYAWADA: It seems that Vijayawada Municipal Corporation (VMC) has not learnt any lessons from previous manhole deaths. The Tuesday’s incident in which a private sanitation worker, Gunja Gangaraju, died in a manhole at H Block of Vambay Colony, brought to fore the blatant violation of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, and the Supreme Court ban on manual scavenging.
The ‘insensitive’ municipal administration department entrusts the manual scavenging to private contractors, who never feel obliged to provide safety gear like face masks, gloves, headlight and gumboots to workers before they get into manholes.
Activists say that it is the duty of the municipal corporation authorities to put an end to manual scavenging and, instead, engage machinery to clear clogs in manholes. What makes things worse is the fact that families of the workers who die while clearing manholes never get compensation.
“Regular employees of VMC are not generally engaged to clear clogs in manholes. It is always the contract employees, who do the risky job. It’s not always possible to clear manholes by using machines. They (machines) do not have much reach. In the event of a sewage overflow, there is no option but to get workers to clean them,” said AITUC State general secretary A Ranganayakulu.
Before getting into a manhole, a worker is supposed to open the lid and wait for 10 minutes to let out the poisonous gases. The noxious fumes can cause asphyxiation. ‘’In the last one decade, 20 workers across the State have died while cleaning manholes manually. A meagre compensation is paid to the families of deceased workers, that too after a lot of pressure on the officials from us,” Ranganayakulu said.
In March 2016, a worker died due to suffocation near the civil courts complex. One had gone down a manhole to clear it, but toxic fumes paralysed him leading to his death. Two more died in similar circumstances in March 2017 at Bhavanipuram. Municipal contractor D Srinivas blamed the municipal authorities for getting the drainage cleared without his knowledge. He also went on to claim that as per the terms of his contract with the VMC he was not responsible for the safety of workers. He said the municipal authorities were to blame for not providing safety equipment to sanitation workers.
The incident triggered an uproar among the conservancy workers, who also staged a protest along with the bereaved family at the mortuary of New Government Hospital demanding a compensation of R25 lakh. After dragging its feet on payment of compensation to the kin of the two deceased workers it relented and paid R10 lakh each to the families in accordance to the Supreme Court guidelines.
The hell hole and its victims
10 Conservancy workers died in city in the last decade
A15,000 Given to victim’s kin for cremation
Safety gear to be provided to conservancy workers
Soap or coconut oil
What the Supreme Court said almost four years ago
The SC, while disposing of a petition filed by the Safai Karmachari Andolan, said, entering sewer lines without safety gears was banned even in an emergency. It also said R10 lakh compensation should be given to victim’s kin. Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act 2013 says no one shall employ directly or indirectly, any person for hazardous cleaning of a sewer