STP deaths: Lack of enforcement of safety laws draws ire of activists

Policemen outside the apartment complex at Somasundarapalya, HSR Layout, where three persons died while cleaning a sewage treatment plant on Sunday.   | Photo Credit: Sudhakara Jain

The death of three people who were hired to clear the blocked sewage treatment plant (STP) of an apartment complex at Somasundarapalya, HSR Layout, has once again underscored the lack of implementation of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013.

According to activists, there is no clarity on which agency has to monitor STPs in apartments — the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) that approves the building bylaws, or the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) that mandates STPs for apartments with more than 50 units, or the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) that looks into the quality of effluent.

Maithreyi, an activist, said though law clearly states that only sucking and jetting machines are to be used to clean septic tanks and STPs, it is not being enforced. “After the STPs are constructed, there is hardly any inspection by any agency. The civic agencies must ensure that this dangerous activity does not continue,” she said.

Concurring, Venkatesh M. from the Dalit Bahujan Movement sought to know why none of the civic agencies had any guidelines in place with regard to maintenance of these STPs. “There are guidelines and rules mandating STPs for apartments. Why are there none for maintenance and cleaning?” he said.

Tushar Giri Nath, chairperson of the BWSSB, said the civic agency mandates STPs based on environment laws, and otherwise has little to do with private STPs. “It will be asking too much of any agency to issue guidelines for cleaning of these STPs. Even BWSSB-owned STPs are serviced by private contractors. It is up to the STP owners to monitor the private contractors and ensure that they don’t hire manual scavengers,” he said.

Taking note of the increasing number of deaths of labourers hired to clean STPs or manholes, the Karnataka State Safai Karmachari Commission is now planning to recommend to the government to put in place stringent conditions on private contractors who offer cleaning and maintenance of STPs and advertise their services online.

M.R. Venkatesh, chairperson of the commission, told The Hindu that though prohibited, these private contractors often hire people who do menial jobs and not trained to clean STPs, by luring them with money. He added that he would suggest to the government to have a dedicated and trained team to take up maintenance and cleaning of these STPs. “This team should be equipped with sucking and jetting machines and all kinds of safety equipment. There should also be a dedicated helpline on the lines of 100 (police control room) and 101 (fire control room),” he said, and added that this was the only way to prevent such incidents.

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Printable version | Mar 6, 2021 11:30:40 PM |

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