Within five months of getting married and a little over a year after Venkatramana took up manual scavenging, he became a statistic.
Twenty-four-year-old Venkatramana, a Dalit, died of asphyxiation on October 18 after entering sewage treatment plant in Shantinivas Apartment near Yeshwantpur Railway station in Bengaluru. Manjunath, a Veerashaiva, who entered the septic tank along with Venkatramana, died two days later.
Now, they are among the 58 people who have died cleaning septic tanks and underground sewers in Karnataka between 2008 to 2016.
“The police said that my brother entered first and after seeing him struggle Manjunath entered. My brother died on spot,” said Srinivas, younger brother of Venkatramana.
A group of Dalit activists protested on Saturday in front of the Bengaluru Urban Deputy Commissioner’s office demanding compensation. They also demanded action against the contractor and the apartment owners.
The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 says that the local authority is responsible to ensure the safety of the manual scavengers.
“The District Magistrate shall ensure that, after the expiry of such period as specified for the purpose of this Act, (a) no person is engaged or employed as manual scavenger within their jurisdiction; (b) no one constructs, maintains, uses or makes available for use, an insanitary latrine; (c) manual scavengers identified under this Act are rehabilitated.”
The protesters alleged that the deputy commissioner did not visit the victims or their families. According to KB Oblesh of the Safai Karmachari Kavalu Samiti, said, “The DC is supposed to form a Safai Kaarmachari Vigilance Committee, but nothing of that sort has been done in Bengaluru so far.”
Moreover, when Deputy Commissioner Shankar came to the spot the first time he said, “I have some work at the high court and will be back in an hour.”
A lawyer, who was one of the protesters immediately pointed out that the high court was closed on Saturdays. Shankar changed tack. He said he meant the civil court. Even when he returned, the protesters caught him on the back foot with their questions.
Under the Rules of Employment of Manual Scavengers Act and their Rehabilitation Act 2013, no person shall be allowed to manually clean sewers or septic tanks. It also lays down the obligations of the employer towards employees when cleaning is to be undertaken.
In vase of violations, the law mandates that not just the engineer and contractor, but the apartment owner should also be booked for culpable homicide.
“In this case only the contractor has been booked for death due to negligence but not the apartment owners,” Oblesh said.
While Shankar said he will make sure an FIR is filed against the apartment owners, a person from the crowd asked him what case would be booked. Shankar instantly responded saying 304 A, but that was not the right answer.
Oblesh told Shankar that the police act immediately on these cases, but whether intentionally or unintentionally, they book the case of negligence.
“The case has to booked under IPC 304 part-2, which is culpable homicide. But the police book a case under 304 A, which is for death due to negligence. This is a bailable offence with a jail term of just 2 years,” Oblesh told the DC.
Speaking to The News Minutue, lawyer and an RTI activist Narasimha Murthy said “This is how insensitive they are to these issues. When the DC itself does not care, the issue will persist and people will continue to think there will be someone to clean their shit. Compensation has to be given immediately. But the families are yet to receive any money. Even in the previous cases families have received compensation only after protest.”
The DC handed over a cheque of Rs 5 lakh, 50% of the compensation amount, meant for Venkatramana’s family who were not present, to Social Welfare Department officer Lakshmikanth.
“I am also arranging a meeting with the activists in the coming week to discuss the issue of manual scavenging,” Shankar said.