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UP: 2 Sanitation Workers Die Cleaning Septic Tank in Unnao, Families Seek Compensation

A large number of sanitation workers and the victims’ family members gathered outside the food factory office, demanding compensation.
Karnatka Manual Scavengers

Representational use only.

Lucknow: Two sanitation workers died allegedly after inhaling poisonous gases on Wednesday while cleaning a septic tank at a food factory in Uttar Pradesh’s Unnao district.

The workers - Chunnu (26) and Rahul Raidas (25), both from Unnao - did not have any safety gear when they entered the septic tank of Rustam Foods Factory. Police said they have filed a case against the factory owner, who is now absconding.

The bodies have been sent to the government hospital for post-mortem, and the matter is being probed by the Dahi police station. Necessary action will be taken accordingly,” Circle Officer (City) Ashutosh Kumar, who reached the spot, told NewsClick

Both the labourers used to work in Rustam Foods located in the industrial area of Dahi police station in Unnao. On Wednesday, the duo had gone into the effluent treatment plant (ETP) tank to clean and fell unconscious. The locals rushed to rescue them and managed to pull them out while they called the police. We took the workers to the district hospital, where the doctors declared them dead,” SHO Bhim Shankar Mishra told NewsClick, adding that the workers had no safety gear such as masks or PPEs.

Neighbours corroborated the sequence of events.

The deceased, Rahul, was the sole breadwinner for four family members, including three unmarried sisters and his old mother, Uma Devi. His father passed away a few years ago. 

Chunnu, the other victim, was the youngest of four brothers. He was not married yet. His mother Shashi and other family members are inconsolable after his death.

Following the incident, a large number of sanitation workers, along with the victims’ family members, gathered outside the food factory office, demanding fair compensation for the families. 

My son has been working with the food factory for the last four-five years, and he was doing these cleanings of tanks without any protective equipment. The factory owner and management are solely responsible for his death,” the deceased’s fathertold NewsClick over the phone. 

The incident is a near-repeat of the three sanitation workers’ deaths at a newly-constructed septic tank in Kanpur. On October 21 last year, three workers who had stepped into the septic tank to remove the shuttering from inside died after inhaling hazardous fumes. They were also not equipped with any protective gear.

State president of Municipal Employees Union, Uttar Pradesh, Ramakant Mishra, said that despite the Supreme Court’s ban on manual scavenging, “the business is rampant and taking place under the government’s nose.”

“There are hundreds of sanitation workers in Uttar Pradesh who work under private contractors. However, no steps are being taken by the district administration to get them registered and provide them with safety equipment. Strict action should be taken against the culprits and compensation should be given to the families,” he said.

Meanwhile, in July last year, the Centre said in the Lok Sabha that 347 people have died due to “hazardous cleaning of sewer and septic tanks” from 2017 to 2022. It has, however, maintained that there have been no deaths due to ‘manual scavenging’ in the country. However, it was told in the Rajya Sabha that in the last five years, at least 352 sanitation workers in 20 states have died while cleaning sewers and septic tanks.

Uttar Pradesh, with 51 cases, has topped the list of deaths due to “hazardous cleaning of sewer and septic tanks,” followed by Tamil Nadu (48), Delhi (44), Haryana (36), Gujarat (28) and Karnataka (26).

The incident also comes against the backdrop of Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman making an announcement on the sewage system while presenting the Union Budget 2023-24.

With nearly Rs 100 crore allocation for the newly christened NAMASTE (National Action Plan for Mechanised Sanitation Ecosystem) scheme, Sitharaman said that the Union government is looking to enable 100% mechanical desludging of septic tanks and sewers in all cities and towns. “All cities and towns will be enabled for 100 per cent transition of sewers and septic tanks from manhole to machine hole mode,” she said.

Meanwhile, the Municipal Employees Union said that the compensation for death due to manual scavenging is Rs 10 lakh, which the state government is liable to pay but hardly anyone receives. “Police always manipulate such causality and never show death as a sewer death and therefore, they prevent them from getting the compensation.”

Last year, the Allahabad High Court came down heavily on civic authorities in Uttar Pradesh while hearing a suo motu public interest litigation (PIL) regarding manual scavenging. The Allahabad High Court observed, “The guidelines are being violated more than being followed.”

The court asked the Yogi Adityanath-led state government to ensure that manual scavenging is not carried out anywhere in the state and to “completely eradicate it from the society”.

The court had taken suo motu cognisance of a newspaper report published on May 24, which said the city’s drains were being cleaned by sanitation workers, deployed by the civic body and contractors without any protective gear.

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