The next of kin of the April 30 Vellore sewage tank death victims will get a total of Rs.5 lakh as compensation, Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi said on Thursday.

Five workers died and one person is still in hospital after they inhaled noxious fumes inside a sewage tank at a tannery in Vaniyambadi on Friday. They had been hired to clean the tank.

Intervening on a special calling attention motion on the subject, he said from the government side Rs.2 lakh each would be paid to the next of kin. Another Rs.3 lakh each had already been disbursed from the company's side. The Chief Minister made it clear that action would be taken against those who violated laws.

Most members representing political parties who spoke – T.K. Raja (PMK), C. Gnanasekharan (Congress), K. Pandurangan (AIADMK), G. Latha (CPI-M) and D. Ravikumar (VCK) – pointed to the lack of inspections and the repeated failings of the Pollution Control Board.

Abdul Bahsid (DMK) wanted better pollution monitors and continuous inspections so that such incidents did not recur. Mr. Pandurangan demanded a higher compensation and jobs for the next of kin of those who died. Mr. Gnanasekharan said every year, people died of similar causes and nothing much was done. Though a common effluent plant did exist in most places, these were not enough.

Mr.Raja said that both in Cuddalore and Vellore districts, the Pollution Control Board had abdicated its responsibility. He wanted the owner of the factory, where the deaths occurred, arrested.

Ms. Latha pointed out that the workers did not have any protective gear when they descended into the tank.

V. Sivapunniyam (CPI) faulted the lack of foresight and said that only after an accident did the establishment wake up.

Gnanadoss (MDMK) said that merely giving compensation was not a permanent solution.

Mr. Ravikumar said the government had to draw up a clear policy on handling sludge and sewage. The owners of the factory should not be allowed to get away lightly.

Labour Minister T.M. Anbarasan said the factory had licence to process 15 lakh tonnes of goat skins each year. The sewage and sludge had chromium content and the workers did not have any protection when they went in. Action under law was being taken, he added.