Category Archives: incident report

Case Report (2023/12/23): Death of Two Maintenance Workers in the Sewage Treatment Plant (STP) at Shahi Exports Pvt. Ltd.


The manufacturing unit (Unit 23) of Shahi Exports Private Limited (one of the largest garments’ exporter in India) located in Beretana Agrahara on Hosur Main Road has over 2,300 workers working over three shifts a day. Several toilets have been constructed for these workers and the sewage from these toilets flows into a Sewage Treatment Plant (STP) with a treatment capacity of 150 kLD. The inflowing sewage is collected in a 1000kL collection tank from which it enters the Aeration Tank (15 kL capacity) where primary treatment occurs. This partially treated sewage from the aeration tank is then sent to a Clarifier Tank where the separation of the solids from the liquid content of the sewage takes place, and the liquid part flows to the Filter Feed Tank as shown in the schematic below. 

Schematic of the Sewage Treatment Plant at Shahi Exports Manufacturing Units

The Filter Feed Tank has a submersible pump through which liquid is pumped to the next unit in the treatment process. The depth of the Filter Feed tank is about 10 feet and the breadth is about 15-18 feet. This Filter Feed Tank is not designed for human entry. It has a very small entry, and no in-built ladder arrangement for climbing down. 

The entry point for climbing inside the filter feed tank of the STP

The access to the entry point of the Filter fFeed Tank is also extremely cramped and congested. Ordinarily, the Filter Feed Tank should contain only liquid content and no solid content should enter the tank, but either because of bad design or improper functioning of the Sewage Treatment Plant, a lot of sludge had accumulated inside the Filter Feed Tank. According to an employee of Shahi Exports, the solidified sewage was 1 feet deep, and thus the tanks required to be cleaned. 

On 23rd December 2023, two maintenance workers – Mr. K. Anand (44 years), a native of Andhra Pradesh belonging to Kamsala caste and Mr. T R Shashikumar (51 years), a native of Tamil Nadu. belonging to Naidu caste – were asked to enter inside the Filter Feed Tank and clean it with their bare hands. A utility ladder (see the image below) was given to them for climbing down the 10-ft deep tank. Clearly, they had no prior knowledge or training on the precautions to be undertaken while entering a confined space which had accumulated sludge in it. According to the General Manager of the factory, Mr. Suresh, the tank hadn’t been cleaned for 3 years. Because of the presence of untreated sludge for such a long period, that too in an almost completely closed tank with only a small opening, the tank is likely to have contained a high concentration of gases.

The narrow access to the tank and the ladder used to go inside the 10-ft Tank

Mr. Anand was the first one to enter the tank at about 2:45 pm and when he stopped responding, Mr. Shashikumar also went inside. It is not clear if they were being supervised by anyone while they entered the tank. The General Manager of the factory feigned ignorance about whether any other staff of the factory was present at the spot or not or whether the work was being supervised by any staff of the factory.  Before the unconscious workers were pulled out, they were inside the tank for about 30 minutes. They were rushed to Kaveri Hospital where they were declared dead. Both the workers had been working at the factory for a period of 2-3 years. The Sewage Treatment Plant had received Consent for Operation (CFO) in 2010 which was renewed in 2022 for a period of 10 years. 

Mr. Sridhar (29 years), son of Mr. Shashikumar and Mr. Brahmayya (29 years) son of Mr. Anand were informed about the incident at around 3:30 PM and when they reached the hospital, they were informed about the deaths of their respective fathers. Based on a complaint by Mr. Sridhar, an FIR (CR No. 729/2023) was registered at the Parappana Agrahara Police Station u/s 7 and 9 of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 and 34, 304 Part A of the Indian Penal Code against five persons: Nandish Gowda (Production General Manager), Rajesh Marar (Maintenance Deputy General Manager), Sreenivas (STP/ETP Incharge) and James Raju and Chandra Mohan (both HR). 

While the registration of the FIR by the police under the PEMSR Act, 2013 is laudable, the invoking of the IPC Section 304 Part B (culpable homicide) instead of the much weaker IPC section 304 Part A (negligence) is warranted. The knowledge of the hazardous nature of the work that the two workers were made to carry out has to be assumed in light of the fact that the tank was not designed to be cleaned manually and such manual cleaning is banned under the law. Another serious lapse on the part of the investigating team was their failure to collect samples of the sludge present inside the tank. The FSL forensic team is reported to have collected only a sample of the gases present in the tank, which might help ascertain the cause of death but not the source of the gases which is important for the crime to be linked with the practice of manual scavenging.

When a team of officials, lawyers and activists visited the factory on 26th December 2023, i.e. three days after the incident, the company had not even started the process of disbursing compensation of Rs 30 lakhs to the family of each of the deceased worker, in accordance with the judgement of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in Dr. Balram Singh vs Union of India [Writ Petition 324 of 2020].

Unending Series of Deaths in STPs and Regulatory Vacuum

This fatal incident is the latest in an unending series of deaths in Sewage Treatment Plants in Bengaluru. Since 2016, seven such incidents have been documented (see Table 1) which have claimed 13 lives so far. After the 2016 notification issued by the Forest, Ecology and Environment Department in Karnataka, it has become mandatory for residential apartments meeting the specified threshold (in terms of area or number of housing units) to build and operate sewage treatment plants. Since these regulations were issued, the number of STPs have proliferated in Bangalore. While Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) mandates construction of STPs as a precondition for providing water connection, it doesn’t regulate the design, construction and maintenance of these STPs. The Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) also doesn’t  regulate the design and operation of residential STPs beyond issuing Consent for Establishment (CFE) and Consent for Operation (CFO) under the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974. Often, CFEs are obtained by developers, who make every effort to save space while designing and constructing these STPs. Resultantly, most of the STPs are located underground in cramped and confined spaces. The developers then transfer the maintenance of the apartments to respective Residential Welfare Associations who are required to obtain and/or renew the CFOs. In many instances of such deaths, the STPs were found to be operating without a valid CFO, but KSPCB hadn’t taken any action to shut the plants down. In March 2021, the KSPCB had taken some tentative steps by issuing an Official Memorandum (OM) on STPs prescribing a few basic precautionary measures, but this OM was subsequently withdrawn citing lack of powers under the the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 to make such prescriptions. This leaves us with a situation where, owing to these environmental regulations, thousands of killing fields in the form of sewage treatments plants have sprung up across the city, and while multiple authorities have been tasked with implementation of these regulations to protection the environment, none of these authorities are willing to shoulder the responsibility of protecting lives of those who are made to work at these treatment plants.   


  1. Disbursal of compensation of Rs 30 lakh to the families of each of the deceased workers should be ensured in accordance with the judgement of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in Dr. Balram Singh vs Union of India [Writ Petition 324 of 2020].
  2. The families of Mr. Anand and Mr. Shashikumar should be provided with rehabilitation in accordance with the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013. 
  3. A comprehensive and effective regulatory framework for Sewage Treatment Plants (STP) should be enacted which should include suitable amendments to the following laws:-
    1. Municipal laws related to Building Plan approval to ensure safe design of STPs from the point of maintenance;  
    2. The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 governing the issuance of Consent for Establishment (CFE) and Consent for Operation (CFO) under which the terms of these consents should include safety protocols to be followed for maintenance of STPs
    3. Karnataka Apartment Ownership Act prescribing the obligations of the house-owners and the Residential Welfare Association (RWAs) with respect to ensuring safety of STP maintenance workers, provision of appropriate training and the punishment for non-discharge of these obligations. 
S. No.Place of IncidentDate of IncidentNo. of Persons DeceasedName of the DeceasedCase Details
1Shantinivas Apartment
18.10.20162Venkatramana (24 years)
Manjunath (30 years)
Yeshwanthpur PS
CR 402/2016
2Jatti Dwarakamai Apartments, Whitefield24.04.20171Prithivi Raj (23 years)Whitefield PS
CR 197/2017
3ND Sepal Apartments
06.01.20183Madegowda (45 years),
Srinivas (52 years)
Narayanswamy (43 years)
Bandepalya PS
CR 6/2018
4Prestige Langleigh Apartments, ECC Road, Whitefield 03.02.20181Rajappa (38 years)Whitefield PS
CR 46/2018
5Yamloka Restaurant
AECS Layout
13.02.20182Ramu (25 years)
Ravi (28)
CR 48/2018
6Prestige Falcon City
04.02.20232Ravikumar (39 years)
Dilip Kumar Jena (24 years)
Konanakunte PS
CR 45/2023
7Shahi Exports Pvt Ltd.,
Hosur Main Road
23.12.20232K Anand (41 years)
T R Shashikumar (51 years)
Parappana Agrahara PS
CR 729/2023

Case Report (28/01/2021): 2 persons die in a manhole in Kalaburagi

Kalaburagi (erstwhile Gulbarga) is the second most densely populated city in Karnataka after Bengaluru, with a density of 8824 persons per sqm. It is also a rapidly expanding city. Huge investments have been made in building the underground drainage network in the city. Just under the Atal Mission For Rejuvenation And Urban Transformation (AMRUT) scheme, 230 kms of sewer lines with over 8000 manholes is nearing completion by Karnataka Urban Water Supply & Drainage Board (KUWS&DB). Apart from AMRUT schemes, sewer lines have been constructed under North Karnataka Urban Sector Infrastructure Programme (NKUSIP) by Karnataka Urban Infrastructure Development and Finance Corporation (KUIDFC). As per the Kalaburagi Mahanagara Palike estimates, the city now has a 700km-long underground drainage network. But as has become a pattern with sanitation programmes in India (Swachh Bharat Mission or Smart City Mission are prime examples), a lot of investments are made into the infrastructure itself, but not enough attention is paid to the operation and maintenance of this infrastructure. In other words, those who design and implement these projects hardly ever bother about those who would end up cleaning these toilets, manholes and sewer lines. For Kalaburagi city, the KUWS&DB which is in-charge of maintenance of the underground drainage system, has exactly 3 Sucking and Jetting Machines and 1 Desilting machine!

As a result not only is informal manual scavenging work rampant, even those sanitation workers who are hired by the KUWS&DB itself, either directly or through contractors, routinely get inside manholes and clear blockages. According to activists who work with the safaikarmachari community in the city, there are 800-1000 workers who engage in various forms of manual scavenging in Kalaburagi city, spread over Tarphel, Indiranagar, Ghazipura, Santraswadi, Mahboob Nagar, Azadpur Road, Tipu Chowk, Panchasheelanagar and Umar colony localities. The workers belong to Valmiki (Dalit) and Muslim community in equal numbers. This singular fact explains why crores have been spent on building sewer lines but small investments in functioning mechanical equipment like Sucking and Jetting Machines and Desilting machines which could prevent loss of precious lives, is oft en an afterthough.

Out of the estimated 800-1000 persons engaged in manual scavenging in the city, only 243 persons were identified as manual scavengers by the Kalaburagi Mahanagara Palike in 2018 through ‘surveys’ which were essentially one-day camps where self-declaration forms were invited from those engaged in manual scavenging. The process was in complete violation of the survey protocol prescribed by the Prohibition of Engagement as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act 2013 and the Rules thereunder. Unsurprisingly, the half-hearted attempt by the Mahanagara Palike left out several hundreds of workers, who continue to make a living through this hazardous work in absence of any rehabilitation from the government. 

Among them are the 25-30 workers residing in Umer colony, whose families have been engaged in manual scavenging for several generations. 55-year old Burhan Sheikh, a resident of Umer colony, started working for  KUWS&DB in 1982 at a salary of INR 270 per month as a sanitation worker. He used to clear sewer blockages with a bamboo stick. Before him, his father used to be engaged in the same work. Burhan has not been registered as a manual scavenger since, as per the logic of Mahanagara Palike, he now has a permanent job as a UGD worker in KUWS&DB. Several members of Burhan Sheikh’s family including his sons and his grand-son also joined him in this work as sanitation workers under KUWS&DB but on a contract basis. 

While rest of the city is being connected to Underground drainage, places like Umer Colony where safaikarmacharis reside have open drains

Burhan Sheikh had lost his older son, Mahboob Sheikh, about 5 years ago. Mahboob Sheikh was opening a sewer chamber when he complained of discomfort in his chest. Instead of taking him to hospital, the KUWS&DB contractors sent him back to his house. After cycling back to his house in Umer Colony, Mahboob Sheikh collapsed and died. KUWS&DB neither paid any compensation to his family, nor offered any job to any of his family members on compassionate grounds.

On the morning of 28th January 2021, Burhan Sheikh’s son Lal Ahmad (36) got a call from the contractor, who asked them to come to the junction road between Kailash Nagar and Mahalaxmi Layout. The sewer line flowing along the road had been blocked for several months and the KUWS&DB had been receiving constant complaints from the residents. Lal Ahmad, Rashid Sheikh (Burhan’s grandson) and Raj Ahmad (Burhan Sheikh’s youngest son), Tasneem Sheikh and two other residents of Umer Colony, who usually work together, reached the spot where the UGD was blocked. As per eye-witness accounts, the Sucking and Jetting Machine which was called, was unable to clear the blockage because of the presence of silt and stone pieces blocking the sewer line. When the lone Desilting Machine was called, it was unavailable. The contractor then asked the workers to get down inside the man-hole and clear the blockage with a bamboo-stick. When the workers refused to take the risk, the contractor promised to clear their pending 3-4 months’ wages, if they did this one task. All this while, the contractor and the private company supervisor were in touch with  KUWS&DB officials. 

Desperate for getting their pending wages, Rashid Sheikh first entered the 18ft manhole and tried to clear the blockage with a bamboo stick. As soon as the silt and stones were cleared, the septage and noxious gases spurted out from the sewer line onto Rashid Sheikh’s face. He started to lose consciousness and tried to climb back up but was unable to do so. Lal Ahmad went down to bring back Rashid but the concentration of noxious gases was so high that he too became unconscious and fell inside the manhole. Raja Ahmad, also fell in attempting to pull out his colleagues. The other three workers and the contractor who were outside the manhole brought a rope and were able to pull out Raja Ahmad since he was closer to ground level. But Lal Ahmad and Rashid Sheikh had fallen deep inside the manhole, and they could only be pulled out after a JCB was called in to break open the manhole. Both Lal Ahmad and Rashid Sheikh were dead on the spot while Raja Ahmad was rushed to the District Hospital in a serious condition. 

The subsequent events followed the usual script – the police didn’t register an FIR till few organizations staged a rasta roko protest. When the FIR was filed, weaker provisions of IPC (Sec 304A – Negligence) were invoked instead of more appropriate sections (IPC 304 Part II – Culpable Homicide) and while the list of accused included KUWS&DB officials, their names were mis-spelt in the FIRs. The KUWS&DB first tried to negotiate the compensation amount with the family and settled on Rs 5 lakh which is in complete violation of the Supreme Court directions in Safai Karamchari Andolan vs Union of India

The statements of officials from Kalaburagi Mahanagara Palike and the KUWS&DB tried to paint this as an accident. According to them, the workers slipped and fell into the manhole. The workers can be seen in their undergarments in the pictures from the spot. Why would they remove their clothes if the manhole was being cleaned through a machine? How would three people slip all at once and fall into the manhole? The Chief Engineer, Kalaburagi Division, KUWS&DB even claimed that the workers “would have been drunk, don’t you know these people?” and suggested “de-addiction counseling” as a preventive measure! Conversation at Umer Colony with others who work as manual scavengers revealed that it was not uncommon for contractors to ask workers to get inside the manholes. The workers indicated several places like Basaveshwara Hospital etc where they have gone inside manholes. But the government keeps claiming that there is no manual scavenging in Karnataka!

Report in Kannada published in February 2021 edition of Slum Jagatthu Monthly Magazine.


Fact-finding Report by Safaikarmachari Kavalu Samithi-Karnataka