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On Tuesday, November 12, a 25-year-old man died in Chennai at the Express Avenue Mall after he entered a septic tank to rescue his brother. The deceased was part of a group of manual scavengers who were employed by a private agency.
Police said that a man named Dhandapani took five men — Arunkumar, Ranjithkumar, Yuvaraj, Ajithkumar and Sreenath — to Express Avenue Mall at 4 AM to clean a septic tank in the premises. Ranjithkumar first entered the tank and soon fainted due to the poisonous gases. Arunkumar, his brother, then jumped into the tank to save him. Although he managed to push his brother out, he lost his life due to the toxic gas.
The deceased’s body is currently at the Royapettah Government hospital for an autopsy.
According to The News Minute, Anna Salai police, who are handling the case, refused to give information on whether an FIR has been filed.
The highest number of manual scavengers deaths are reported from Tamil Nadu. According to Times Now, the 2011 Socio-economic census report shows that Tamil Nadu only has 334 manual scavengers, whereas another National Commission survey conducted in 2013 across eight districts of the state identified around 3032 manual scavengers.
D Samuel Velanganni, the Tamil Nadu State Convener of Safai Karamchari Andolan told The News Minute that the state government is yet to carry out a survey to find the actual number of manual scavengers in the state. He also said, “The biggest challenge in addressing the crisis is that even if the manual scavengers themselves take the initiative to get registered under the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Rules, government officers are not accepting the filled-up forms, which defeats the purpose of having the survey itself.”
The Prohibition of Manual Scavengers Act makes it a punishable offence under the Indian Penal Code and has the provision of imprisonment upto two years for the culprits. But the practice of applying manual scavengers to clean sewers still continues.
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