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Home > Mumbai > Mumbai News > Article > Mumbai BMC makes U turn says 3 men fell in water tank with faeces

Mumbai: BMC makes U-turn, says 3 men fell in water tank with ‘faeces’

Updated on: 27 March,2024 07:03 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Eshan Kalyanikar |

Before relatives of deceased filed FIR against civic body for neglecting structural issues, latter had been insisting mishap involved septic tank

Mumbai: BMC makes U-turn, says 3 men fell in water tank with ‘faeces’

Ramlagan’s daughter Sunita (centre), flanked by a neighbour and her younger brother, comforts her mother at the deceased’s residence in Malwani, Malad

Key Highlights

  1. Officials from BMC are now saying it was a water tank, not a septic tank
  2. This change in position came a few days after the relatives of the deceased filed an FIR
  3. There has been a contradiction between the BMC ward officials and the Malwani police

Officials from the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s P ward are now saying it was a water tank, not a septic tank inside a community toilet in Malad’s Ambujwadi in which three members of a family fell and died, likely of asphyxiation, on March 21. This change in the position came a few days after the relatives of the deceased filed an FIR against the civic body for neglecting the toilet’s structural issues, which the family alleges led to the death of their kin.

“It is a water tank only. It is still a matter of investigation but all the statements are pointing towards a water tank. Now the question is what led the three to suffocate, assuming that is the cause as the post-mortem report is pending. There will be an enquiry set up under the executive engineer as structural problems come under the BMC. We will be looking into the possibility of faecal matter passing through as well,” said Kiran Dighavkar, P North ward’s assistant commissioner.

He added that the BMC had filed an FIR against the community-based organisation Om Jai Durga Seva Society which was managing the toilet, on charges of culpable homicide. Asked about compensation to the family, Dighavkar said, “The BMC provides compensation in cases of tree falls or landslides. As far as I know, there is no provision of compensation in such a case but all of it depends on the conclusion of the investigation.”

The toilet at Ambujwadi in Malwani, Malad where the mishap occurred. Pic/Anurag Ahire
The toilet at Ambujwadi in Malwani, Malad where the mishap occurred. Pic/Anurag Ahire

On Tuesday, he issued a notice to ward executive engineer, directing him to conduct an enquiry from technical point of view and submit a report within 15 days. In the notice, Dighavkar states, “Some residents are saying it is a water tank and some are saying it is a septic tank.”

Since the day of the incident, there has been a contradiction between the BMC ward officials and the Malwani police. The former kept insisting it was a septic tank into which the residents fell, while the police stated it was a water tank containing waste. Two of the local rescuers said that the bodies of the deceased were covered in faecal matter.

“Two people from P North’s maintenance department were called in for questioning and asked us to submit the documents. We are still firm on our stand that so far as what we have found so far, it was a water tank. This is also in the panchnama and the rest is the matter of investigation,” said Chimaji Adhav, senior inspector, Malwani police station.

Relatives speak

“It was not a septic tank in which my father and two brothers fell in and died, it was a water tank into which faecal matter had leaked from the adjoining septic tank that they were cleaning,” asserted Sunita Kevat, 20, the daughter of 45-year-old Ramlagan Kevat, and sibling to Suraj, 18, and Bikas, 20. The siblings were declared dead on Thursday while Ramlagan was critical and declared dead on the intervening night of Saturday. Adhav as well as Dighavkar and the on-duty medical officer at the hospital Dr Sushil Mantri said the deaths were likely due to asphyxiation: the cause of death in most cases of manual scavenging due to inhalation of toxic gas in the septic tank.

Apart from the family and the police, an overwhelming majority of residents in the area were insisting it was a water tank with faecal matter emitting toxic gas. The FIR is based on a statement by Parshuram Kevat, Ramlagan’s brother who arrived in Mumbai from UP a couple of days ago, implicating BMC for the death of the three. The police have registered a case under Section 304A of the Indian Penal Code, for causing death by negligence, against unknown individuals.

‘CBOs are misrepresented’

There are three tanks in this toilet. One on the top, and two underground where one is a septic tank and the other is a water tank with a dividing partition. At the time of construction, this arrangement was made by the civic body as there is no fresh water pipeline in the area. There is another underground tank to hold faeces in case of overflow, which is outside the toilet.

“The BMC appoints a contractor and the latter is supposed to look after the construction of the toilet. They are also supposed to provide desludging services through machinery and ensure adequate safety free of cost for five years after which the BMC takes on that responsibility. Community-based organisations (CBOs) and the contractors are not the same,” Anand Jagtap, retired OSD, slum sanitation programme, BMC. The family alleged when Ramlagan called the BMC to clean the water tank, he was asked for a bribe of Rs 5,000. Dighavkar has denied this and has said there is no basis for this allegation.

“The civic body is responsible for maintenance of the septic tank as well as the water tank,” he added. Jagtap points out that CBOs are local slum dwellers, basically users of the same community toilet block. They meet cleanliness expenditures and issue monthly passes. They get water and electricity at a commercial rate. They are responsible for day-to-day cleanliness and minor repairs. The BMC is responsible for major issues like the structural integrity of the toilet, including the water tank, the septic tank, the pipeline, and the overflow tank. “CBOs are unfortunately misrepresented by the BMC,” he said.

Letters from Ramlagan to BMC

Several letters were written to the P North ward by CBO Om Jai Durga Seva Society, of which Ramlagan was a secretary. The society requested the BMC to fix the overflow and gas pipe which were broken. “Three seats on a ladies’ toilet are broken along with windows and doors of the terrace, handicap toilet's ramp is broken, the gas pipe connected to the toilet, overflow pipe and other things are also broken,” reads a letter to the BMC in May 2022 with a stamp of P North ward officials.

This letter bears Ramlagan’s signature. He had been collecting money from the users of the toilet and cleaning the same for the last year or so as the family needed additional income. As the secretary of the CBO, even as back as September 2020, he had written a letter to BMC urgently seeking repairs as “in the future, someone may die because of it,” his letter reads.

There are more than 20 such letters, according to CBO member Sunil Mishra, and the family and the CBO members said they are in the process of compiling them. “There was a leakage in the partition between the septic tank and the water tank, which I suspect has been there since the time this toilet came up,” said Mishra. Adhav has not confirmed this at this stage but has not denied the possibility either, stating that the investigation is ongoing.

Why family was cleaning tank

“If the BMC had sent someone to clean that water tank, this would not have happened. My father died for the good of the people here,” Sunita said. The toilet functions on khara paani [borewell water] and has a motor to send the water to the tank on the top, which then supplies it to the taps. In two of the four available letters, Ramlagan pleads with the BMC to make fresh water available to residents either through water tankers or pipes connecting to nearby BMC water connections as women had started developing skin disease and the motor frequently needed repairs, which was costly.

Several residents, including members of the family, said he had finally managed to arrange for freshwater, which is why the tank had to be cleaned. They also said that neither the water tank with possible faecal matter nor the septic tank had been cleaned since the toilet first started being used in 2017 as a result of which the septic tank was overflowing.

Caste factor

Kevats are considered as OBCs in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar and are a fishing community. Locally, they are also known as Mallahs, Nishads and Machhuaras, according to Bihar’s caste survey.  In some states, they are considered Scheduled Castes. In Uttar Pradesh, the Samajwadi Party has been pushing for their scheduled caste status. Sunita had mentioned to mid-day that another one of her uncles was tasked with running the toilet earlier.

Constitutional body intervenes

The National Commission for Scheduled Castes has issued notice to the collector of Mumbai Suburban district, BMC and commissioner of police calling for an inquiry into the issue and submit an action-taken report in three days to the commission. The body said it will be issuing summons if the recipients fail to comply. “We did not know this water tank part. Regardless, if there is faecal matter involved, there can be a case for manual scavenging,” said Sagar Ratan Charan, a Pune-based lawyer who wrote to the commission to intervene. Asked what if no one asked but the person did so because BMC asked for money for desludging. “In that case, there can still be a case of manual scavenging but there needs to be adequate proof,” he said.

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