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Fact Finding on the Death of Manual Scavengers

On Monday 15th July 2013, several newspapers in Delhi carried the incident of death of three manual scavengers in the Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts in delhi. While few of them said that the death was caused by obnoxious gases; some reported electrocution as the cause of deaths. Many of them neither established the cause of death nor the identity of the victims. None of the newspapers published any follow up story on subsequent days.
 
PAIRVI conducted a fact finding on 16th and 17th July 2013 to establish the identity of the victims, cause of death, turn of events and course of the occurrence and also the accountability for these deaths. It is mention worthy that Delhi was the first state to ban manual scavenging in 2012. The fact finding team came out with certain facts
 
Identity of the victims: 
  • Victim No. 1: Ashok – 37 years, R/O 30/268 Trilokpuri , New Delhi-91
  • Victim No. 2: Satish (Electrician)- 45 years Village saleempurjat, BulandShehar
  • Vinctim No. 3: Rajeshwar- 45 years 10/265, Trilokpuri
All of them were employed by the housekeeping department of the IGNC. Satish worked as electrician at IGNCA. Another employee of the house keeping department, Chhotu (25 yrs) S/O Mukharam, R/O Trilokpuri, being one of the cleaners survived, was attended by the RML and discharged the same day.
 
Place and timing of the occurrence: The incident took place in the new building of the IGNCA, near the gate no 6. CPWD is in charge of the construction and maintenance of the building. There are 6 septic tanks in the basement of the new building. While the victims had cleaned 5 tanks, they died while cleaning the last tank. The tanks are 5-6 feet deep, and has a very narrow opening, which hardly allows to enter two people at the same time. The incident took place at around 07.00 pm on the Sunday, 14th July 2013.
 
Cause of death: Cause of death is not yet certain. Police are waiting for the postmortem report. However, Police believes that the victims were electrocuted as the septic tank has two motors fitted to pump out rainwater(?). However, it is highly unlikely that electrocution was reason of the death as one of the victims Satish was an electrician, who could have turned off the power in case release of current in the tank. One of the witnesses, Aman (years…) who reported to be friend of the victim Satish said “ the cleaning was taking place since afternoon, they had already cleaned 5 tanks and were working in the 6th tank, when they became unconscious. Satish could sense that when none of them came out for quite sometime. He went inside and rescued two of them, and then he himself became unconscious. When he regained his senses, he took a friend of him along to rescue the third person, but both of them were overcome and became unconscious.”
 
The PCR was informed of the incident at around 07.45 pm. They reached and informed the fire brigade. The fire brigade rescued victims 2 and 3 and sent then to the RML. The victim no 1 was presumed to be dead and laid on the ground. However, he was rushed to RML when his body showed a little movement. The RML declared all of them “brought dead. The fourth person Chhotu, admitted, was relieved the same day.” (As informed by Aman, who claimed to be a witness to the incident)
 
Chhotu who could have been the key informant could not be traced.
 
Mr. Dharmendra Singh Rawat, incharge of the housekeeping at IGNCA accepted that the victims were his worker. However, he denied that they were cleaning tanks on his orders. He said that they were working for Gupta Engineering, the company which was given the contract for cleaning of the septic tanks. He also added that the workers were working on Sunday, which is a holiday, without his prior permission for extra money.
 
Mr. Sunil Kumar (IO), Parliament Street, Police station said that Mr. Gupta of the Gupta Engineering has not started his work at the IGNCA. 
 
Mr. Dinesh Kumar, SHO, Parliament Street, Police station, said that he couldn’t provide any details as the investigation is still going on, and that they could reach any conclusion only when they receive the report of the postmortem.
 
No one filed an FIR. The police registered a case under sections 336/337 (endangering human lifeor personal safety by rash and negligent act/causing hurt to endanger human life or personal property by rash and negligent act) and S. 304 A (causing death not amounting to murder by rash and negligent act) on its own.
 
Major issues: The police story did not answer a number of questions, and leads to the wrong track as to the cause of the death, and accountability of the owner of the premises, and the contractor. Main issues involved are listed as under:
  1. Why cleaning was done on Sunday, which is a holiday? Who ordered cleaning and who authorized cleaning on the premises?
  2. None of the victims had safety kit? Who authorized cleaning without safety kits? Orders of the Supreme Court, Delhi and Madras High Court directs that sewage workers must have safety kits.
  3. According the said guidelines, presence of the Superintending Engineer is necessary for such cleaning, whether he was present?
  4. the CPWD is charged with the maintenance of the new building. How did CPWD ensured that the cleaning were done according to their own guidelines and guidelines laid down by the courts?
  5. Why did the police called for fire brigade only after arriving at the place of the occurrence? A prompt call to the fire brigade could have saved lives.
  6. Accountability of the owner of the premises, how did he ensured that cleaning was done by trained people with safety kits and only according to the guidelines laid down for the purpose? Why a case was not filed against him?
  7. What is the accountability of the Delhi Govt? How did it ensure that manual scavenging does not take place after it was banned?
  8. what is the accountability of the central Govt? How did it ensure that manual scavenging did not take place, after the Supreme Court asked the govt to ensure that it does not take place?
Prayer
  1. Order a judicial enquiry to know the causes and circumstances of the deaths caused and who is accountable for flouting orders of the Supreme Court and High Courts
  2. Order delhi govt and central government to file an affidavit on their efforts to ban manual scavenging in delhi and the country
  3. Order Union of India to constitute a Committee to identify and estimate people involved in manual scavenging in the country and look into the provisions for their rehabilitation.