While the Ludhiana civic officials claimed that Satvir entered the manhole without informing them, the sewermen union has blamed the local councilor and her husband for forcing Satvir to go inside to clean the choked sewer line as residents were complaining constantly.

Despite manual scavenging (manual cleaning of sewers) being banned by the Supreme Court, the practice continues unabated in Ludhiana. On Saturday, a sanitary worker lost consciousness after inhaling poisonous gas emanating from a choked sewage line, while cleaning a manhole in New Subhash Nagar (Basti Jodhewal area of ward number 7 in Ludhiana.

Identified as Satvir, in his 50s, he was taken to Preet Hospital on Rahon Road nearby where his condition is stated to be stable. He is a contractual sanitary worker employed with the Ludhiana Municipal Corporation.  This is the third incident in a month of sanitary workers falling ill while cleaning manholes manually in Ludhiana.

While the Ludhiana civic officials claimed that Satvir entered the manhole without informing them, the sewermen union has blamed the local councilor and her husband for forcing Satvir to go inside to clean the choked sewer line as residents were complaining constantly.

Purshottam Lal, sub-divisional officer (SDO) of the area, Ludhiana MC said, “We do not allow manual scavenging until it is an emergency. Even then, higher officials accompany the sanitary workers and they are allowed to go inside only after wearing safety gears. We do not know why Satvir entered manhole around 4 am Sunday. Local councilor and her husband were in touch with him. On Saturday, Satvir and four other sewermen were working in this area and some work was pending. They themselves decided to complete pending work in the early hours. We were unaware of it. Around 4 am, he fell unconscious after inhaling poisonous gas. He is stable now.”

Asked why manual scavenging is still being continued despite the SC directives, the SDO said, “We have limited resources. First we try to clean sewage lines with suction machines and all other equipment available. But even then if cleaning is not proper, we have to allow sanitary workers to go inside and clean it manually. But in this case, he entered without keeping us in loop and no civic official was present on the spot.”

Denying the allegations, Monu Khinda, husband of local councillor Ravinder Kaur, said, “We never forced him to go inside. It was his own decision to complete work in the early hours. We, in fact, took him to hospital after he fell unconscious.”

Meanwhile, the Sewermen Municipal Karamchari Dal has filed a police complaint alleging that the councillor’s husband forced Satvir to enter manhole that too during wee hours when it was dark. “They did not even inform the local SDO and other officials. We want FIR against them under the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act 2013 and the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act,” said Sudhir Dhariwal from the union.

On August 30, a sanitary worker, Amit Kumar (25), had fallen ill while cleaning sewage in Gobindpuri area of ward number 2. On August 10, a sanitary worker Vajinder (25) was injured while cleaning choked sewer line in street number 8 of Guru Nanak Nagar in Basti Jodhewal area after a local washing and dyeing unit released hot water in the sewage.

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