The five contract labourers, who were cleaning the storm water drain at Tardeo on Friday, did not have any safety gear or equipment, despite the high court laying down guidelines in 1996.
While one labourer suffocated to death, another is critical at Nair Hospital.
The municipal corporation (BMC) sent a show-cause to the contractor, who was given the Rs 12-crore work to strengthen the 500 m dilapidated drain in Tulsiwadi, to explain the incident.
“The contractor was carrying out the work for the last two months, and to our knowledge, safety measures were taken,” said a civic official from the storm water drain department.
But the labourers, who are in hospital, said they did not have any safety gear.
“They were not wearing masks or gloves,” said one of the firemen, who rescued the men. Masks and blowers in the drain would have helped improve ventilation in the drain, thus reducing the effect of the methane gas.
Milind Ranade, president of the contractor-labourers’ union, alleged that despite having strict safety measures in place, contractors do not follow them.
Of the 22 guidelines laid down by the court, more than 85% of these are still being violated, he added.
“One of the points in these guidelines says that if negligence is found, the head of the department should be directly held responsible. Moreover, the first information report that is lodged will also be directed towards the municipal corporation,” said Ranade.
He alleged that BMC “smartly outsources such hazardous work” and the contractors often violate these guidelines because they are not supervised.
Following complaints from the human rights associations and litigations, high courts in Delhi, Chennai and Gujarat have stopped manual sewer cleaning. “Contract workers engaged by local bodies to clean underground sewers virtually walk into death traps due to callous attitude of the contractors and the corporation,” alleged Ranade.