VIJAYAWADA: A week after three manual scavenger deaths rocked the country, two more died in Vijayawada on Wednesday. The manhole in question is about 18 ft deep. “I felt asphyxiated and couldn’t breathe. As I climbed out and was falling unconscious, I saw Rambabu getting in to save Venkateswarlu,” Durga Rao said.
Neither Rambabu nor Venkateswarlu made it alive. Locals, who noticed an unconscious Durga Rao, alerted police at the Bhavanipuram police station, which is yards from the spot. They rushed Durga Rao to the hospital. In the meantime, constable Md Mastan risked his life and went into the manhole, only to find the lifeless bodies of Rambabu and Venkateswarlu. The bodies were later retrieved and sent to the GGH for postmortem.
The incident triggered an uproar among conservancy workers, who staged a protest along with bereaved family members at the mortuary, demanding compensation of Rs 25 lakh and decrying failure of the Vijayawada Municipal Corporation in providing safety gear to them. As tension gripped the area, police stepped in and persuaded protestors to withdraw.
They promised a thorough probe based on complaints lodged by the kin of victims. During the entire day, neither municipal commissioner G Veerapandian nor mayor Koneru Sridhar came out to console the bereaved families. The bereaved family members vowed to return on Thursday morning to the hospital to press for their demands. They insisted that the commissioner and mayor must give an assurance on compensation.
Postmortem could not be done due to protests. “The workers went down an 18 ft manhole without safety gear. Instead of paying compensation and assuring help to families, the mayor and municipal commissioner did not even turn up to console them,” said M David, secretary of AP Municipal Corporation Employees’ Union.
Municipal contractor D Srinivas, in whose area the tragedy occurred, blamed municipal authorities for conducting drainage cleaning work without his knowledge. He told Express his contract with the corporation does not make him responsible for of the workers. “I also wasn’t informed of the Bhavanipuram work. None of the deceased belong to Bhavanipuram area, but officials got the manhole cleaned without informing me,” he clarified.