No justice for 3 manual scavengers who died cleaning septic tank of posh mumbai society more than a year later

On 30th September 2020, it will be 500 days since that fateful night.

Credit : Deepak Joshi/Indian Express

On May 9, 2019, three Manual Scavengers- 20-year-old Amit Puhal, 21-year-old Aman Badal and 24-year-old Ajay Bumbak, lost their lives while cleaning septic tanks at Pride Presidency Luxuria, Thane west. Manual Scavenging is prohibited in India under section 5 of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 (MS Act 2013). On 30th September 2020, it will be 500 days since that fateful night in May 2019 but victims and their family are still seeking justice. The apathy from police is such that it hasn’t filed a charge-sheet regarding the case let alone investigating it further.  

Eight labourers were summoned by contractors to clean four septic tanks at Pride Presidency Luxuria Housing society in Dokhali area. They began their work around 4 pm on Thursday (9th May 2019) and tragedy struck at around midnight when their work was nearing completion. After inhaling toxic fumes, 2 of them passed out in the tank, in an attempt to rescue them another labourer entered the tank, but failed to do so and himself got stuck in there. All the 3 victims were declared as ‘Brought Dead’ on arrival at the hospital, while other two rescuers (labourers) were unconscious, they later were discharged. 

Although a case was filed against the contractors under IPC section 304(A) at Kapurbawdi Police station, charge sheet has not been filed by the police even after 480 days from the day of the incident. Muse Foundation, a Thane based youth-led NGO filed an RTI application to enquire about the status of the compensation for the affected family which is mandatory by law, but they still haven’t received any answer to their application, even after multiple appeals regarding the same. 

Pranav Trivedi of the Muse Foundation who has been pursuing the case to get the compensation for the family said “We had conducted a protest outside the collector's office in order to get the compensation. We also came across a document by Eagle Eye Pvt.Ltd and TMC which promised to give alternative jobs to the families of the victims on paper. Unfortunately, when we confronted Eagle Eye Pvt. Ltd, they were ready to give the job to only one person. Even the salary was not feasible as it was just Rs.6000/month. Thus, we could not rehabilitate them and are still working on the same.”  Muse foundation is raising awareness and empathy towards this case.

The issue of Manual Scavenging is an open secret in Mumbai and Maharashtra. The National Commission for Safai Karmacharis had directed the Maharashtra state government in 2019 to invoke the Manual Scavengers and Rehabilitation Act, 2013 after multiple cases of Manual Scavenging were reported from Mumbai and other districts around it. The Commission had also pointed out that police generally invoke section 304 (A) of the IPC i.e. death by negligence but they should invoke the MS act 2013 so that the offence can be made non-bailable and responsibility can be fixed on the principal employer. 

Most often, in such cases, the police are reluctant to file them under the MS Act 2013 because of their nexus with the contractors. Contractors easily get away from punishment due to illiteracy and lack of social capital of the victim’s family and no support from the government administration. 

Generations of families of the people who belong to lower castes have been destroyed by the inhumane practise of Manual Scavenging. Manual Scavenging is the most brutal form caste atrocity which shatters the discourse of urban middle class that caste no longer plays a part in modern metro cities of India.