Every day, nearly 60 cubic metres of silt and solid waste is removed from the city’s sewerage network

Some days ago, I saw employees of a roadside eatery open a manhole and pour waste water directly into it. This incident, a common sight in the city, is why the sewage network is often clogged, overflowing and smelly.

Stormwater drains in the city also often become casualties with vendors finding it easy to chuck garbage into them, oblivious of the agony of workers who have to clean them.

Every day, nearly 60 cubic metres of silt and solid waste is removed from the city’s sewerage network. Blocks in sewers in several places are not restricted to the rainy season any more. Sewage overflows on to the roads constantly, particularly near commercial establishments and large residential buildings. The dumping of solid waste such as plastic bags and sanitary napkins into manholes is cited as one of the reasons for the frequent clogging of sewer lines.

While machines worth several lakhs have mostly replaced the workers who used to clean the sewer network following a Madras High Court directive banning human entry into sewer lines since 2008, equipment alone cannot ensure foolproof maintenance of these lines. The pathetic working condition of the workers who clean septic tanks in the suburbs often does not come to light.

Over the past year, nine sanitary workers have lost their lives in their attempt to clean septic tanks and sewage pits in and around the city. The municipalities and panchayats abutting the city do not have a sewerage network or the equipment to clean septic tanks in households.

Even early this month, two deaths were reported in Thiruninravur when the workers attempted to clean the septic tank in a house. The municipalities and panchayats abutting the city do not have sewerage network or equipment to clean the septic tanks in households.

The special committee formed to come up with suggestions to end manual scavenging across the State meets once in six months or eight months. But, the points discussed often remain on paper or the agencies involved are slow in implementing the suggestions.

The construction of diaphragm chambers was made mandatory for commercial establishments to prevent the entry of solid waste into sewer lines. But, very few hotels and marriage halls have such systems in place even now. As there is no concrete monitoring mechanism, several large residential complexes continue to escape the mandate of fixing gratings in their chambers which are connected to main sewer lines.

It was appalling to know that solid waste comprising plastic bags, condoms and napkins were found to be blocking the sewer lines of a multi-storied building in Virugambakkam where sewage overflow is common. Though they are equipped with machines, it was still not an easy task for sanitary workers who had to place hose pipes into the deep manholes to clear the blocks with the water pressure from the pipes. The condition of the labourers, both in the private and public sectors, in the suburbs is worse as they are not provided with any safety equipment.

The great interest shown in creating awareness among the people about the problems related to dumping of solid waste in manholes has dwindled over the months. Measures to spread awareness against throwing garbage into the sewerage network must be a continuous process through documentaries or other public initiatives. Chennai Metrowater could even come up with a system to levy a fine for those who do not fix gratings or construct diaphragm chambers.

Chennai Metrowater needs to block illegal sewer connections into stormwater drains and the Corporation needs to fulfil its promises of procuring machines to desilt stormwater drains, which have been reduced to sewage carriers in many places. This would go a long way in putting an end to manual cleaning and exposing workers to health hazards.

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