Water, pollution boards pass the buck on STP workers' deaths

Water, pollution boards pass the buck on STP workers' deaths

The blame game has begun between the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewage Board (BWSSB) and the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) over the death of three men cleaning sewage at an apartment.  

BWSSB chairman Tushar Girinath said the board cannot be held responsible for the deaths since the apartment had installed the sewage  treatment plant and maintained it privately. "STP cleaning needs to be supervised," Girinath said. "It can only be done by trained workers. The apartment has risked the lives of those people by allowing them to get into the septic tank unsupervised."

He said the pollution  control board had made STPs mandatory and the BWSSB was only implementing the rule. The BWSSB's engineer-in-chief, Kemparamaiah, said the design, operation and maintenance of the STP inside the apartment were approved by the KSPCB.

"The KSPCB issues guidelines and monitors the functioning of the STPs," Kemparamaiah added. While the BWSSB's STPs are of higher capacity, the ones installed at the apartment are less than one lakh kilolitres.

"If the apartments' associations approach us for guidance, we'll certainly offer them. But no one has contacted us," Kemparamaiah said.

A KSPCB official was quick to point the finger at the BWSSB for not monitoring the STPs.

Advocate Clifton Rosario termed the BWSSB's statements on the incident "unfortunate". He said it was "shameful" for  the head of a government agency to totally distance himself from the deaths of people due to manual scavenging.

He also said allowing workers to enter the septic tank was against the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013. As the agency responsible for implementing the provisions of the Act, the BWSSB is responsible for the deaths, Rosario added.

The advocate said the "educated" apartment owners must be held responsible for the deaths since they failed to take any precautions in letting the men enter the STP.

It is high time the government framed guidelines for cleaning the STPs, both government and private, Rosario said.  

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