Despite a Supreme Court order against manual cleaning of manholes, a contract worker on duty for Chennai Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board (CMWSSB) in Perambur died of asphyxiation in the small hours of Wednesday. A Junior Engineer of the department who attempted to rescue him also fell into the manhole and died. Police said the worker did not have necessary safe equipment.

Sources with the Thiru-Vi-Ka Nagar police identified the deceased as Shankar (45) of Sentamizh Nagar, Tiruverkadu, who was a contract labourer and Venkatraman (56) of West Mambalam, a Junior Engineer with Ward 68 of Metrowater.

The accident took place around 2 a.m. after Shankar and two other contract workers led by Venkatraman came to Maduraisamy Madam Street in Perambur following complaints of drainage block and sewage water stagnation in the area. The crew cleared four manholes on adjoining Vasudevan Main Street and Marianayagam Street and finally came to Maduraisamy Madam Street.

“As the three men watched, Shankar entered the manhole without any safety equipment and was struck by poisonous gas. He struggled to breathe and attempted to come out of the hole. Witnessing this, Venkatraman stretched out his hand to pull out Shankar but was struck by the gas and fell inside,” said S. Ramanathan, Inspector of Police, Thiru-vi-ka Nagar.

Metrowater officials alerted the Fire Department and a team from Sembium Fire Station rushed to the spot. Following attempts for over two hours, the bodies of Shankar and Venkatraman were taken out of the manhole by firemen. The bodies were taken to the Government Kilpauk Hospital for post-mortem.

Residents of the area were unaware of the incident till dawn. As the news spread in the morning, residents and media persons thronged the area which has a perennial drainage problem.

“Sewage water is overflowing everywhere and the water has also entered some houses in Vasudevan Main Street, Marianayagam Street and nearby areas,” lamented Kumar, a resident of Vasudevan Main Street.

While Venkatraman’s relatives took his body, Shankar’s relatives refused to collect his in protest stating they were not informed about his accidental death and they learnt about it only from the TV channels.

Metrowater officials and police personnel were trying to pacify the relatives till Wednesday evening.

Thiru-Vi-Ka Nagar police registered a case of unnatural death and are further investigating. Meanwhile, CMWSSB officials denied that the worker had entered the manhole.

“He opened the lid and slipped and fell inside. The engineer tried to save and fell inside in the process,” claimed an official. “We have stopped manual entry into manholes.”

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