Four Sanitation Workers died in a Manhole in Kolkata


Kudghat, 25 February. Four sanitation workers were ordered to enter into an underground pit for the connecting a sewer line with newly constructed drainage pumping station, inhaled toxic fumes, possibly methane, and died of asphyxiation. The deceased have been identified as brothers Jahangir Alam, Sabir Hussain and Md. Alamgir, son of a poor and marginal farmer Liyakat Ali, three workers were also injured and admitted to Hospitals. All of them migrants from Talsur village in Harishchandrapur of Maldah dist.

The work of construction of a drainage pumping station and sewer lines at Kudghat area, is being carried out by Kolkata Environment Infrastructure Improvement project (KEIIP), which functions under Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC). On 25 February, the underground sewerage network become a trap for four sanitation workers who were ordered to enter into a drainage pit without mask or other protective gears. The lid of the manhole was not kept open beforehand so as to get the toxic fumes in the pit released. The level of stagnant water in the pit was not measured/assessed. Two out of four deceased, had no previous experience of working in underground drains, they had not any idea either of hazards involved. The workers were just ordered to link sewer pipe of diameter 60" without any supervisor present, with the drainage pumping station. One worker first entered without safety belt and mask in the pit and inhaled the toxic fumes, became unconscious and soon drowned in the sewer sludge. Next three went to rescue him and died too. Another three entered in succession, however, could assess the situation after inhaling the gas and managed to come out. The incident is a criminal offence and it blatantly contravenes the provisions laid down in "The Prohibition of Employment As Manual Scavengers And Their Rehabilitation Act, 2013" which promulgates absolute ban on employment or use of manual scavenger.

The KMC constituted a three man Committee, comprising DG, KMC, Drainage and sewerage, DG, KEIIP and DG, KMC, Project Development to probe the matter. It is reported that the FIR would be lodged against the contractor only if reports so warranted. The contractor was asked to pay ₹ 5 lakhs to each of the deceased. The officer in charge of the Regent Park police station informed a delegation that a probe has already initiated in pursuance with the relevant provisions laid down in CRPC relating to dereliction of duties. The conditions of the injured workers, admitted to hospital were stable.

A protest by many organisations was organised the next day at the place of the incident. The organisations together with AICCTU and AIPWA staged a  protest demonstration  in front of the office of KEIIP at Shakespeare Sarani on 3 March.