Chennai: A 25-year-old man died of asphyxiation as he tried to save his younger brother. The duo was cleaning a septic tank at a famous shopping mall in Royapettah in the heart of Chennai during the wee hours of Tuesday.

According to the police, the deceased, Arun Kumar of Ice House, heard screams from his younger brother Ranjith Kumar (23) who inhaled toxic gases while cleaning the tank. While Arun was able to save Ranjith, unfortunately, he died. Ranjith is undergoing treatment at the Royapettah government hospital.

According to the Anna Salai police, Dhandapani, a contractor, had hired five men including the brothers for Rs 500 each to clean the septic tanks at Express Avenue shopping mall. “The work began at around midnight, and the men cleaned two tanks and reached the third basement to clean the septic tank,” said the police officer.

Sources said that Ranjith entered the three-meter tank to clean it while the other men were waiting. Within minutes, Ranjith cried for help and fell unconscious. “In a bid to save his brother, Arun got into the tank and helped his younger brother get out. However, in the process, Arun inhaled the toxic gases and fell unconscious,” added the officer.

By then, the other men called for help, and they pulled out Arun and rushed him to the hospital where he was declared brought dead.

In their inquiry, the police learnt from the workers’ families that the men were given safety masks were given only for taking photos. After the pictures were taken and the workers returned to the task, the masks were recovered from them.

“The other men had informed us that the brothers were taken to the hospital, but no staff from the mall had contacted us to inform the news. Even when I reached the spot, the staff made me wait in three different rooms in the basement and directed me to others. Not one person from the staff informed me what exactly happened,” said a relative of the deceased.

The Anna Salai police have registered a case against the contractor, and further investigations are on.

It may be noted that Tamil Nadu tops the list in the number of death related to manual scavenging. According to the data by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, 620 deaths have been reported across the country since 1993, and Tamil Nadu had the highest number of sewer deaths with 144.

Such incidents point out that the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 has not been effective in the state.

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