Case Report (2nd March 2019): Death of a Worker in a Septic Tank of a Private School at Beguru in Bengaluru

On 02.03.2019, the administration of Jai Hind International School located near 11th Main, Hongasandra on Beguru Main Road in Bengaluru, reportedly engaged Manu (25), belonging to Lingayat community, for manually cleaning a septic tank/chamber into which the sewage from the toilets in the school empty out. Engaging any person for manual cleaning of septic tanks, which amounts to manual scavenging, is expressly prohibited by the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation (PRMSR) Act 2013. Sec 2(d)(e) of the PEMSR Act defines hazardous cleaning as

d) “hazardous cleaning” by an employee, in relation to a sewer or septic tank, means its manual cleaning by such employee without the employer fulfilling his obligations to provide protective gear and other cleaning devices and ensuring observance of safety precautions, as may be prescribed or provided in any other law, for the time being in force or rules made thereunder;

Section 7 of the Act expressly prohibits manual cleaning of septic tanks and Sec 9 makes violations of this prohibition punishable offence:-

7. No person, local authority or any agency shall, from such date as the State Government may notify, which shall not be later than one year from the date of commencement of this Act, engage or employ, either directly or indirectly, any person for hazardous cleaning of a sewer or a septic tank;

9. Whoever contravenes the provisions of section 7 shall for the first contravention be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years or with fine which may extend to two lakh rupees or with both, and for any subsequent contravention with imprisonment which may extend to five years or with fine which may extend to five lakh rupees, or with both.

Sec 2(d) imposes obligations on the employer to provide protective and safety equipment to workers and to take precautions before, during and after any person is engaged in cleaning septic tanks. These obligations have been defined in Chapter II of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Rules, 2013 encompassing Rules 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8. But the private school which is affiliated with ICSE/IGCSE and claims to be an ‘International’ school providing facilities including a ‘swimming pool’, completely failed in discharging these obligations. In fact the BBMP Bomanahalli Zonal Office is just 1.5 kms away from the school, and the administration could have requested the services of a Jetting Machine, but the administration of the private school didn’t think twice before sending a person down a sewage pit.

Manu was not provided any safety equipment by the administration of the school and was assigned to clean the chamber without any supervision. When he fell into the pit, no body else was present at the spot. The pit was just 5 ft deep, and presence of any other person could have saved him. Only after several minutes of having fallen in the pit did somebody notice him and pull him out. By the time he was rushed to hospital, he had already died due to asphyxiation.

Sewage Pit which that was being emptied by Manu when he fell in

Manu came from the Lingayat community and is survived by his wife Nandini (22) who belongs to Adi-dravida (SC) community. Nadini says that their inter-caste marriage was never accepted by Manu’s mother and that is why they were living in a separate rented house in Hongasandra, just behind the school. Manu used to work as a casual labourer. They have a 4.5 year-old daughter.

Ms. Nandini, wife of late Ms. Manu, with their 4-yr old daughter

Based on a complaint filed by Ms. Nandini at the Beguru Police Station, a case has been registered under Sec 9 of PEMSR Act 2013 and Sec 304A of Indian Penal Code. Three people of the administration of Jai Hind International School, namely Mr. Raghavan (owner), Ms. Saroja (Principal) and Mr. Kishore (Co-ordinator) have been arrested based on the complaint. While Ms. Saroja was granted bail on 04.03.2019, the other two accused were sent into judicial custody.

Clearly this is a case where death has occurred not due to negligence but due to a conscious act on the part of the accused persons who with deliberate knowledge that it is illegal and dangerous to allow a person to clean the pit, has willfully made the deceased person get into the pit without any safety equipment endangering his life and finally causing the death of the deceased and hence the correct provision of law to be invoked is Sec 304 Part II and Sec 338 of IPC, 1860, as warranted by the facts of the case.

IPC Sec 304 Part II
Whoever commits culpable homicide not amounting to murder, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, or with fine, or with both, if the act is done with the knowledge that it is likely to cause death, but without any intention to cause death, or to cause such bodily injury as is likely to cause death.

IPC Sec 338
Causing grievous hurt by act endangering life or personal safety of others.—Whoever causes grievous hurt to any person by doing any act so rashly or negligently as to endanger human life, or the personal safety of others, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine which may extend to one thousand rupees, or with both.

As specified above, sec 2(d) of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act 2013 read with Chapter II of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Rules, 2013 create obligations on the employers to provide protective and safety equipment to workers and to take precautions before, during and after any person is engaged in cleaning septic tanks. But despite this common knowledge, the accused made a worker enter a septic tank completely unsupervised and without providing any safety or protective equipment whatsoever. Given these facts, Sec 304 Part II and Sec 338 of IPC, 1860 are clearly attracted.

Since 2008, over 70 people have died while engaged in cleaning septic tanks and sewers. In Bangalore city alone, since the 2013 Act came into force, there have been over 20 cases of manual scavenging leading to over 30 deaths but so far the police has not been able to secure a single conviction in any of these cases. The state administration seems to think that in cases of deaths resulting from manual scavenging, its responsibility ends with providing compensation to the family. Since the Congress (I)-JD(S) coalition government has come to power, they have not appointed anyone to the post of Chairman of the Karnataka State Safaikarmachari Commission after relieving the previous Chairman before the end of the tenure. Since the establishment of the Safaikarmachari Development Corporation, the process of rehabilitation of those identified as Manual Scavengers has completely stalled in Karnataka.

Further Interventions Required

  1. Sec 304 Part II and Sec 338 should be immediately added to the FIR filed in the case at the Beguru Police Station.
  2. The Beguru Police Station should expedite the process of investigation and filing of charge sheet in the case.
  3. While providing compensation to the family of the deceased as per Supreme Court Judgement in Safai Karamchari Andolan & Ors. Vs UOI [WP (C) 583/2003], the circumstances of inter-caste marriage between Mr. Manu and Ms. Nandini and non-acceptance of this marriage by Mr. Manu’s family should be kept in mind so as to ensure that Ms. Nandini and their daughter are not denied justice.
  4. The family of Mr. Manu should be provided rehabilitation as per the provisions of Sec 13 of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act 2013.
  5. The BBMP and BWSSB should jointly set-up a helpline which people can call to request services of Sucking and Jetting Machines and the helpline should be widely publicised.

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