COIMBATORE: There would be many ‘if-onlys’ once the analysis of the death of the three persons, who asphyxiated inside a sewage plant, begins. However, Suryakumar would not benefit from anything the experts opine. He was one of the three to die. An MBA student, Suryakumar was a victim of unemployment and circumstances, forced to take up a job as a security guard, for he had many mouths to feed. Though he was in no way connected to the smithery, he found himself standing guard outside the basement on the fateful intervening night between Thursday and Friday to monitor the cleaning process. It was his sense of duty that forced him to take the fatal plunge when the other two started calling out for help.
“Suryakumar had no connection with the smithery unit as he was our company employee. Last night, he was forced to stay here and was deployed to add strength to the security detail as cleaning of the sewage tank was scheduled,” says T Gopinath, a native of Odisha, deployed as a security guard at the unit. According to Gopinath, during daytime, five security guards, including two women, are deployed at the unit to monitor those entering and exiting. During nights, there are only two on duty.
“On Thursday night, our supervisor informed at the last minute that they needed additional personnel as the sewage tank cleaning work was scheduled. Our security chief asked Suryakumar to stay back until the work was done,” Gopinath added. Sources said that Suryakumar had completed his shift, but was asked to stay longer.
Suryakumar completed his BBA from a private college in the city and had been pursuing MBA via correspondence. “Since he did not get a job after completing BBA, my son was forced to join a private security company. His father died a few years ago,” said Surya’s mother Yeshodha.“I do not have any hopes left after losing my son. He was the breadwinner of the family taking care of me and his sister Suganthakumari, who delivered a baby recently,” Yeshodha added. Yeshodha recalls that her son used to go for work in the evening and return late in the night. “He did not even pick calls on Thursday. On Friday, we came to know he died,” an inconsolable Yeshodha added.
Meanwhile, Gopinath confirmed that it was not the first time that the two youth, Gowrishankar and Ezhumalai, were deployed to clean the sewer. “The sewage plant is full of chemicals and we cannot stand near it even for five minutes as foul smell emanates from it. However, the two youth, Gowrishankar and Ezhumalai, used to enter it once in six months. Though they were not employees of this gold smithery unit, they accepted to do it as their owner insisted on it,” Gopinath said.
According to sources, Gowrishankar’s father died several years ago and once he completed his High School, he opted to work in smithery units. Apart from taking care of his mother Poornima and his brother, he was also looking after a family of five his uncle left behind.The Madras High Court in October last had directed the Tamil Nadu government to initiate criminal prosecution against the people responsible for a reported incident of manual scavenging here which came to light recently.The directives were issued during the hearing of a PIL by an NGO seeking payment of interest in addition to mandatory compensation payable to beneficiaries under the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013.