On May 31, two labourers Mohamad Idrish and Mohamad Iqbal, both migrant workers who had come to Patna from Murshidabad in West Bengal, lost their lives while cleaning sewerage at Namami Gange Project site in Beur locality of Bihar’s capital, Patna.
To investigate the matter a joint fact-finding committee formed by Dalit Adivasi Shakti Adhikar Manch (DASAM) and Loktantrik Jan Pahal (LJP) was formed. The committee addressed their findings in a press conference on June 29 in Patna.
The committee found that on the basis of circumstantial evidence, the company and the contractor is directly responsible for the deaths of the labourers and with reference to previous Supreme court ruling, it is a killing.
The committee in its investigation found out that the Company which is working on the Namami Gange Project was aware that the cleaning work that the labourers were made to perform was potentially dangerous, even deadly. The Company and contractors knowingly put the lives of the labourers in extreme danger by not providing them with safety gear and emergency equipment required for such jobs. Forcing labourers into sewage drains without adequate safety measures in place is enough circumstantial evidence to lodge an FIR.
— Dalit Adivasi Shakti Adhikar Manch (DASAM) (@dasamindia) June 29, 2021
Migrant Labourers and the Collusion Between Police and Company
However, since both the labourers were migrant workers there was no local pressure which gave the police a free hand to make the case as light as possible in the favor of the company. The committee explained that it is a case of a cognizable offence but instead of filing an FIR against the company and the contractor, the police has considered it a non-cognizable offence and lodged a case UD FIR (15/21) which is contrary to the Supreme court ruling and against the law.
‘The case is a real test for the justice system as the victims are from a minority community. The Supreme Court had directed that payment of compensation of Rs. 10 Lakh be made to persons who died in sewage work in 1993,’ the committee told. As of now, the authorities have not provided any relief or compensation to the families of the victims.
The problem of cleaning labourers has only grown with the rapid urbanisation. As in the case of Patna, work is under progress in the city to convert all major drainages and nala into an underground sewerage system. This is to carry the sewerage to nearby water treatment plants in order to save the nearby rivers from getting polluted from the untreated filth of the city. The deaths took place on a site associated with the Namami Ganga project.
The fact-finding committee further added that drainage pipes get choked due to inefficient garbage management, causing frequent trouble in the sewerage system. In late 2019 when the southern and western part of Patna was facing unprecedented waterlogging, multiple reports had suggested that concerned authorities do not have the map of the existing sewage system of the city. Under such circumstances the job of cleaning workers becomes hell.