New Delhi, India - March 26, 2021: A relative showing a picture of Premchand, who died inside a manhole while cleaning the septic tank at Grand Emperor Banquet Hall, in Ghazipur, New Delhi, India, on Friday, March 26, 2021. Two people died in the incident. (Photo by Amal KS / Hindustan Times)
New Delhi, India - March 26, 2021: A relative showing a picture of Premchand, who died inside a manhole while cleaning the septic tank at Grand Emperor Banquet Hall, in Ghazipur, New Delhi, India, on Friday, March 26, 2021. Two people died in the incident. (Photo by Amal KS / Hindustan Times)

Both men were forced to clean the tank on threat of wage cut, say their families

Family members and relatives of the two men who died late Thursday while cleaning a septic tank at a banquet hall in east Delhi said their loved ones used to work as daily wagers in weddings and they never were made to clean tanks before
By Anvit Srivastava, New Delhi
PUBLISHED ON MAR 27, 2021 03:50 AM IST

Family members and relatives of the two men who died late Thursday while cleaning a septic tank at a banquet hall in east Delhi said their loved ones used to work as daily wagers in weddings and they never were made to clean tanks before. The families said the two men were not provided any protective gear or safety equipment by the management of the banquet hall where the tragedy took place. They were promised a meagre 1,500 per man for the job, police later said.

The two men who died were identified as 35-year-old Lokesh Kumar and Prem Chand, 40. Both worked at wedding parties in the catering department and lived in Trilokpuri, east Delhi.

HT visited the banquet hall on Friday afternoon but it was found locked. There was no one from the management outside the hall to comment on how the two men had entered the tank without protective gear

Deepak Kumar, the deceased Lokesh’s, brother-in-law, said, “ I got information around 1am about Lokesh’s death. When I reached the banquet hall, their bodies were still inside the tank. Police took the bodies out by 2am after which we came to the hospital. I told my sister that her husband was unwell. Only by Friday afternoon could I tell her that he was dead,” Kumar said.

Lokesh is survived by his wife, who used to work as a domestic help and their two children -- a 15-year-old daughter and a 12-year-old son. Deepak said Lokesh was the only earning member of the family.

Kumar said it came to them as a surprise that Lokesh had got into the septic tank to clean it. “He worked as a catering labourer at parties and wedding functions. He had never done tank cleaning work before. We have learnt that he and Chand both had been called in for a catering job but were then made to clean the septic tank. They were threatened that their payments would not be cleared if they did not clean the tank. They were also not given any protective gear to do the work,” Deepak said.

Lokesh’s parents live in Shimla. He had four brothers who live with their parents.

Prem Chand’s elder brother, Radhey Shyam, who works as a security guard, said he got a call around 7am informing him about his brother’s death. He also said his brother had never worked as a septic tank cleaner before.

“My brother had never cleaned a septic tank. I’m sure he and the other person were both forced to do that job. We want adequate police action against the owner of the banquet hall and those who forced my brother to get into the tank without any protective gear,” Shyam said.

Chand is survived by three brothers, wife and two sons -- aged 15 and nine years. All of them live in Trilokpuri.

During the early hours of Friday, at least 40-50 people from the two men’s families and Delhi sanitation workers unions had also gathered outside the banquet hall and staged a protest there demanding the immediate arrest of the owner and the housekeeping manager. Both have been detained for questioning.

Chairman of the union Sanjay Gehlot said despite the government providing machines to clean septic tanks and sewers, people continue to use daily wagers as that is the cheaper option. “This amounts to cruelty to humans. The workers were also not given any safety equipment or protective gear before they got into the tank. We demand that adequate compensation be given to the families of the two men,” Gehlot said.

No compensation has been announced for the families as yet.

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