Just as Bulbul Hassan (22) was preparing to step out of home at Budh Nagar in Ghaziabad’s Loni around 6 a.m. on July 8, he told his four-month pregnant wife Arani Bi (19) to expect him for lunch. The next time she saw him was way past lunchtime — when her neighbour asked her to identify Bulbul from a photo received on WhatsApp of three men who had died 100 metres away from her home.

Earlier that day, 40-year-old Roshan Lal, a cleaner employed by Envirocon, was getting ready to go down a sewage pumping station tank. Roshan finally went inside the nearly 50-foot-deep tank around 9.50 a.m. but fainted due to toxic gases and drowned within minutes.

An anxious pump operator Mahesh (35) kept shouting Roshan’s name. When he failed to get any response, Mahesh looked inside the tank. He saw Roshan lying unconscious and rushed inside the tank to rescue him but met the same fate.

“Moments later, a worker at the pumping station went looking for both Roshan and Mahesh. When he failed to spot them overground, he peeped inside the tank and saw both men lying unconscious. He climbed down the tank but felt uneasy due to the toxic gases. He climbed back up and raised an alarm,” said Sahid, who owns a shop opposite the pumping station.

He went to help

Bulbul, who was passing by, responded to the cries for help and went inside the station. He tied a rope around the waist and went down to rescue Mahesh and Roshan. Bulbul took his last breath inside the tank, just 100 metres from his family.

“The police was called, followed by the Fire Department. The Fire Department team refused to go inside the tank saying it did not have safety equipment. The National Disaster Response Force [NDRF] was called. They took over an hour to reach the spot. A diver went inside with an oxygen cylinder but was pulled up minutes later as he started feeling uneasy. He felt better within half-an-hour and went in again,” said Sanjay Kumar, a local.

Bulbul’s elder brother Raza ul-Hassan was at home when he heard a commotion over the sewage pump incident.

“I was at home when I heard about the three men who had suffocated inside the tank. I even went to the spot but the police did not let me in as they were pulling out the bodies from the tank. Little did I know that my brother’s body was among the bodies that they were pulling out,” said Raza.

Meanwhile, the NDRF diver had managed to locate all three bodies. The bodies were recovered at 2.15 p.m., nearly four hours after the incident was reported.

When Bulbul, who was usually home by 3 p.m. daily, failed to return even by 6 p.m., a worried Arani told her brother-in-law to go look for him. Raza called all his brother’s friends and even his employer but in vain.

Meanwhile, Arani approached a neighbour, who is a journalist with a local newspaper, for help. The journalist showed her a photograph of the three men who had died inside the tank.

“He showed her the photograph on his mobile phone. She immediately recognised Bulbul in the photograph,” said Raza.

“We rushed to the police station after this. A policeman there showed us a similar photograph. They gave us Bulbul’s body the next day after the post-mortem. Someone told us that Bulbul was only passing by when he heard the cries for help. He entered the tank to save the two men but lost his life in the process,” Raza said.

Bulbul and Raza’s parents, and Arani’s parents have arrived in Loni from Bareilly and Assam respectively after they were informed about the tragedy.

All of them have been camping in the tiny ‘two-room’ accommodation rented by the brothers for Rs. 2,000 per month. Bulbul and Raza created the illusion of two rooms by partitioning the space with a shutter.

Raza said Bulbul and he were forced to migrate to Loni from Bareilly nearly four years ago after their father met an accident and was bedridden. Raza said they made only Rs. 150-Rs. 200 per day in Bareilly while in Loni they earned Rs. 350-Rs. 500 daily.

Mourning pregnant wife

Arani is in mourning in one of the rooms and has not spoken at all since she learnt about Bulbul’s death. Her mother-in-law Hamida Bi said everyone is concerned about her health as she is pregnant.

“I have lost my son but I want my grandchild to be safe. This is a tough time for all of us. Arani is from Assam and does not understand Hindi. We are poor and have to work daily for food. Some officials [from the National Commission

for

Safai Karamcharis] visited the house and gave her a cheque for Rs. 10 lakh. I am worried about the fate of her child,” said Hamida.

Meanwhile, locals alleged the tank had not been cleaned for months, leading to buildup of toxic gases. They said it had not been cleaned since the Uttar Pradesh Jal Nigam stopped the contractor’s Rs. 20-lakh payment. The contractor only started cleaning the tank to get the payment cleared.

The police said an FIR under Section 304A (causing death by negligence) of IPC has been lodged against the contractor at Loni station.

Contractor blacklisted

“An initial inquiry report has found six Jal Nigam officials, including executive engineers, guilty of negligence in supervising the operation of sewage pumping station. A compensation of Rs. 10 lakh each has been given to the family of the deceased men, according to the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act. The contractor, Envirocon, has been blacklisted and a police probe is under way. The action was taken after an inquiry report was sent to senior Jal Nigam officials at the Lucknow headquarters,” said District Magistrate Ritu Maheshwari.

A maintenance contract had been signed between Envirocon and Jal Nigam for two years.

However, it is alleged that the company did not provide the workers with safety gear despite the nature of their job.

I was at home when I heard about the three men who had suffocated inside the tank. Little did I know that my brother’s body was among the bodies that they were pulling out

Raza ul-Hassan

Bulbul’s elder brother

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