New Delhi: Four migrant workers from Bihar died in Surat on Wednesday (November 15) due to asphyxiation while cleaning a septic tank, or manual scavenging, which has been outlawed in the country since 2013.
The men – identified as Rajesh, Kamlesh, Sehnawaz, and Deepak– had been contracted to clean eight septic tanks at a textile dyeing factory in Surat district’s Baleshwar village. According to the Times of India, the men were meant to use machinery, however, a motor failure prompted one of them to climb down a 25-foot-deep sewage tank.
When he didn’t respond, others followed in to rescue him but lost consciousness, according to H.L. Rathod, Deputy Superintendent of Police, Surat Rural. The bodies of all four victims were transported to Surat Government Hospital for a post-mortem examination, TOI reported.
Emergency response teams from ERC fire stations at Kamrej and Bardoli swiftly responded to the distress call. Fire-fighters extracted the unconscious workers from the septic tank, but they were declared dead by the 108-emergency team, the report said.
The police have said that though it appears to be an accident, if any carelessness is discovered during the inquiry then they would pursue a case of criminal negligence and investigate accordingly.
As many as 339 people have died while cleaning sewers and septic tanks in India in the last five years, according to government data.
Manual scavenging is an outlawed practice under the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation (PEMSR) Act, 2013. The Act bans the use of any individual for manually cleaning, carrying, disposing of, or otherwise handling, in any manner, human excreta till its disposal.
In a piece published on The Wire in March 2022, researchers Jawed Alam Khan and Rahat Tasneem said, “The government’s obstinate denial regarding the existence of manual scavenging is proving to be detrimental in making any real progress.”