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Mumbai: BMC notice to trust that told locals to clean tank

Updated on: 23 March,2024 04:29 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Eshan Kalyanikar |

As contradicting versions of the how the two men died emerge, locals say either BMC or trust must be held accountable

Mumbai: BMC notice to trust that told locals to clean tank

Relatives of the Kevats waiting at the hospital; (right) Wahid Shah and Junaid Khan tried to save the Kevats. Pic/Anurag Ahire

In the aftermath of the death of two brothers on Thursday and the critical condition of their father after they fell in while cleaning a tank of a community toilet in Malad's Ambujwadi, BMC has served a 24-hour show cause notice to the trust—Om Jai Durga Seva Society—responsible for the management of the toilet.

There are two contradicting versions of how the deaths occurred. The BMC's case against the trust is that it told Suraj, 18, Bikas, 20, and their 45-year-old father, Ramlagan Kevat, to clean the septic tank without providing adequate safety gear, which would amount to manual scavenging—an illegal practice of making workers handle waste with their hands.

“The community-based organisation (CBO) got the three to clean the tank without following the required protocol; we were not informed either. One person collapsed in the tank, and in a bid to save him, the other two jumped in. Two of them died. We have issued a show cause to the CBO asking them to explain why a police FIR should not be filed against them for culpable homicide,” said Kiran Dighavkar, assistant municipal commissioner, P North ward.

However, Senior Inspector Chimmaji Adhav of Malvani police said the trio had been deployed to clean the water tank, and not the septic tank. “They likely died of suffocation, which happened while cleaning the water tank. So far, the BMC has not conveyed anything to us that would suggest otherwise,” he said.

According to Adhav, the police are investigating the case to determine the cause of death which is likely asphyxiation—commonly associated with the deaths of people cleaning a water tank and also the cause of deaths while cleaning septic tanks. “It is possible there was a leakage in the septic tank, and the waste was mixed with the water. But as of now, nothing is certain,” he said.

Families speak

At Bharatratna Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Municipal General Hospital in Kandivli, two families wait outside the ICU, keeping a close watch on the condition of their loved one. There are the relatives of the Kevat family and the mother and siblings of one Ameen Sheikh, 17—a resident of the same area.

Sheikh was friends with the two brothers who died. He too had fallen in the tank and is the only one of the four people involved who is conscious at the moment. After the Kevat family members were sent to hospital, he was called in by the police for questioning and later sent to the hospital for further treatment.

On-duty medical officer Dr Sushil Mantri said Sheikh’s condition is stable. His mother, Fatima said they were changing the toilet system which was using boring water, but before that, the tank needed cleaning. “The septic tank hadn’t been cleaned since the toilet came up so it was overflowing. We think the waste or gas leaked into the water tank,” she said. The reason for the shift to a clean water system from boring water was that it would cause the motor to frequently break down. The Kevat family has been managing the toilet and would get a fee from the residents to look after its cleanliness.

However, relatives said they were not sanitation workers and were doing this as a side income. “The family ran their own small food business. They were emptying the water tank when this happened. We have called in other relatives from Uttar Pradesh and they are on their way,” said Rajendra Chaurasia, a neighbour.

Seeking accountability

Back in the locality, the road to which remains unpaved, the residents close to where the Kevat family lived were teary-eyed. Shiv Sahay Prajapati said, “Most of us have been living together for the last 20 years. We have seen each other's children grow up and never imagined this would happen.”

Another resident, Mateen Quereshi, said, “In eight years, neither the BMC nor the contractor has cleaned the septic tank. If they had maintained it well, this tragedy would never have happened. Someone needs to be held accountable for the deaths.”

The Kevat family has one daughter, while their mother remains unaware. The bodies of the two were sent to Bhagwati Hospital for a post-mortem. Following the incident the three Kevat family members and Sheikh were rescued by four civilians, two of them being Junaid Khan and Wahid Shah who are residents of the area.

Shubham Kothari—a member of Jann Haq Sangharsh Samiti—which is coordinating with the locals to seek accountability, said, “If the incident happened as the residents were cleaning the water tank, then the responsibility falls on the BMC as it becomes a case of the structural integrity of the toilet. If they were asked to clean the septic tank by the trust, then it is a clear case of manual scavenging.” 

Mar 21
Day incident occurred

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