Five die of asphyxiation

NEW DELHI JUNE 26. Five members of a technical maintenance team working with a private company died of asphyxiation when they went inside a sewage tank yesterday to fix a machine at Prashant Vihar in North-West Delhi.

The tragedy occurred at the sewage treatment plant (STP) in Rithala around 12-15 p.m. The fire brigade and local police pulled out the bodies from the tank and took them to Babu Jagjiwan Ram Hospital for post-mortem.

According to the police, Virender (25), a fitter, was the first to go in around 11-30 a.m to fix an "Agitator'', a machine used to keep the sewage fluid. "It had stopped working on Tuesday and the entire tank was emptied so that someone could go in and fix the machine installed at its base,'' said an official of Degrimont India Limited, a French company which had built this plant. It had sub-contracted the operation and maintenance work to another company, Astra Enterprises.

When Virender went in, the sewage was hardly 10-inch deep, the official claimed. Though he was wearing a mask, he started feeling giddy and collapsed. Three persons -- Fagu Yadav (37), the supervisor, Fayyaz (35), an electrician, and Dharmender (25), a helper -- went into the tank one after the other but did not return.

The last person to go in was Ravi Kumar (32), senior maintenance engineer. He too collapsed. Though all of them were wearing masks, strangely it was not enough to save them from the toxic gases. Also, since none of them were wearing safety belts, they could not be pulled out. Even as the post-mortem reports are awaited, it is believed that they all died due to asphyxiation.

For their part, Degrimont officials have picked up sewage samples from the 15-feet deep tank and sent it to a laboratory for testing.

The possibility of some industrial effluents getting mixed with the sewage has not been ruled out.

A case of causing death due to negligence has been registered at the Prashant Vihar police station and further investigations are on.

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