Five workers died of suffocation while working on a drainage project in Ghaziabad’s Nandgram area on Thursday afternoon, the Hindustan Times reported.

The men were working on a project to connect domestic sewer lines with the city’s main drainage system, officials said. They were employed under a private contractor, who was constructing the network for the Uttar Pradesh Jal Nigam under the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation scheme.

Around 1.30 pm on Thursday, one of the men slipped inside the 15-foot-deep manhole in Krishna Kunj locality in Nandgram. “After one fell in, another worker went in to bring him back,” Police Superintendent Shlok Kumar said. “The second one who went inside also did not come out. After this, the third worker stepped down and likewise the fourth one too. After none of them came out, the fifth also went down but he too did not come out.”

Residents then alerted other workers nearby and the police, Kumar said, adding that the five men were eventually retrieved but declared dead at a hospital. Ghaziabad district magistrate Ajay Shankar Pandey ordered an inquiry into the incident and said the water board will pay a compensation of Rs 10 lakh to each victim’s family.

Four officials of the water supply department were suspended, News 18 reported. The police also filed an FIR against the private contractor.

The workers were identified as Horil, Sandeep Kumar, Damodar, contractor Vijay Kumar and his brother-in-law Shiv Kumar. They were all from Samastipur in Bihar, officials said.

“We are trying to contact their family members at their native place. The chief minister has taken cognisance of the incident and directed for all possible help to the victim families and has also directed for stern action against the erring officials,” Pandey said.

“It is possible that there were toxic gases inside the manhole even if the manhole was not connected to the sewer network,” he added. “There was water inside and we have asked for a technical report from the fire department. It is possible that the deaths were caused due to the presence of gases inside.”

Several reports cited witnesses as saying that the workers were not wearing safety equipment. But a machine operator from a neary site, Jitendra Yadav, told the Hindustan Times that they had been provided with safety kits and masks. “But the five were working without any equipment and had left the items at the godown on the Delhi-Meerut Road where they were residing,” Yadav said. “There was no sewer water inside the manhole but drainage and stagnant water was present.”

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