Shed a tear for these very important persons

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: Two very important persons died in Mysore Mandya last week.

Not VIPs of the sort who populate our pages and screens these days, not VIPs who put up banners at street corners wishing you for Ugadi or May Day, but two very important persons whose very importance lies in their anonymous, faceless, unknown, unsung existence.

The two VIPs were Under Ground Drainage UGD workers. Two among the 3,000 or so UGD workers spread across the State, and who comprise a tenth of whom we grandly call pourakarmikas.

The two Mysore Mandya workers died due to asphyxiation. Similar cases have been reported from Hubli-Dharwad, Mysore and Malavalli. These deaths happen every now and then and are becoming all too routine to cause any comfort.

How many more of these very important persons will have to meet their maker before the fake VIPs wake up?

The main job of UGD workers is to go underground and clean up the clogged mess in the pipes in the City. They endure unbearable stench, swim in swirling sewage, and, after working for a few years in that setting, are sure hosts of cancer, asthma, gangrene and skin diseases.

They are supposed to be given protective devices such as a helmet, a gas mask, gum boots, miners’ torch, gloves etc.

What do they get instead? Don’t laugh.

A long cane stick to poke clogged joints!

Even while cleaning a manhole they have to follow a method. After opening the manhole cover, kerosene and salt should be sprinkled to kill the bacteria swirling in the cesspool. Workers are supposed to wait for half an hour before they get in.

But, as the deaths demonstrate, safety norms are being flouted with impunity under the nose of inspectors, and all the Government seems to be able to do most of the time is shift the blame on the contractor.

Why are the safety norms not followed?

What is the Labour Department doing?

Shouldn’t some heads roll in these offices for sheer neglect when there are deaths statewide?

We are building mini-Vidhana Soudhas in the State and sure enough mini-Vikas Soudhas will follow. A tidy sum of Rs 30 crore has been promised to a Mutt to take care of native cows. What about UGD pourakarmikas—human beings like you and me—who do what neither you nor me are ready to: clean up everybody’s shit without proper equipment and guidelines risking their health everyday?

Which network follows their travails through the day with ‘Breaking News’? How many assemble studio guests to discuss their plight, their problems, their working and living (and indeed dying) conditions? How many ‘experts’ from civil engineering departments, concerned government departments, discuss the ‘Big Question’?

When will their lot improve?

Have the Mannina Maga or Mommaga done anything for the hapless people who spend their lives cleaning up other people’s shit?

Shouldn’t they be?

Related link: Plugging the manholes