Five people died of suspected asphyxiation in a septic tank at a house in Chhattisgarh’s Jashpur district on Sunday. Superintendent of Police Prashant Thakur said the five had gone inside the tank for repair work, reported the Hindustan Times.

Initially, two sanitation workers climbed into the septic tank in Pandripani village to remove wooden planks. When they did not come out, two more people went inside. Later, the house owner’s wife climbed down into the newly built tank to check on the four men.

When none of them came out, a child from the neighbourhood alerted the villagers. The five were pulled out of the tank and taken to a local hospital, where they were declared dead.

One unidentified police officer told PTI that prima facie it is suspected that they died of suffocation. However, the exact cause of their deaths will be known in the autopsy report, he added. A case has been filed in connection with the incident.

After the practice of manual scavenging was banned in 1993 by the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, an amendment to the law a decade later brought cleaning of septic and sewage tanks under its purview. Section 7 of the law prohibits local authorities or agencies from employing a worker to clean sewers and septic tank.

Despite this, little seems to have changed. In June, it was reported that more than 53,000 manual scavengers are employed in 12 states, including Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Haryana.

Norms were violated, say police

Meanwhile, three people died in a water tank at a makeshift pickle-making factory in Daulat Nagar area of Ghaziabad’s Loni town on Sunday, reported The Hindu. Experts from the National Disaster Response Force said they found traces of hydrogen sulphide and carbon monoxide inside the tank, where vegetables are stored.

The police said the factory owners had built the tank in a residential plot in violation of norms. “Luvkush [Prasad] and his son Praveen [Kumar] went inside the tank that had knee-deep water,” the Hindustan Times quoted Loni Sub-divisional officer Satendra Kumar Singh as saying . “They could not come out. When [Kumar’s wife] Champa Devi got to know about the incident, she raised an alarm.” Hriday Nath Dubey, their neighbour, stepped into the tank to help the two but got trapped inside.

“The bodies have been sent for autopsy,” said Singh. “The district magistrate has also ordered a magisterial inquiry into the incident. An FIR is also in the process of being lodged as the factory was being operated in an unauthorised manner on a residential plot.”

Officials broke the house’s rear wall to let out toxic gases. “We had to go in with a biological protection suit,” said NDRF inspector Karam Singh. “It is likely that the gases proved fatal for the three men since they were not wearing proper gear. Besides, a stench resembling that of rotten eggs emanated from the tank.”