Karachi: Despite the passage of two days, Umerkot police have not arrested five persons nominated in the case in which a sanitary worker died when refused treatment by doctors at the Umerkot Civil Hospital.
Civil Hospital medical superintendent Dr Jam, two other doctors and three employees of municipal committee Umerkot were nominated in the case. So far, Umerkot police have arrested only Dr Jam. District police authorities claim that they are conducting raids and will arrest others soon.
On Friday, a sanitary worker Irfan Masih descended into a manhole to remove underground drainage line where he was hit by a poisonous gas and asked for help. Another worker, Yaqoob Masih, went to rescue him but both of them fainted. Later, the other two workers Faisal and Shaukat went inside to save Irfan and Yaqoob, but they also fainted due to the poisonous gas.
They were brought to the civil hospital, where, as per media reports, doctors refused to treat them until filth on their bodies was not cleared. Later, families and relatives took out to streets to protest.
Though the media held civil hospital Umerkot's doctors responsible, the local residents held municipal committee Umerkot responsible for the incident – claiming that the authority has forced the workers to go inside manhole without any precautionary equipment.
Pakistan Tahreek-e-Insaf (PTI) MNA Lal Malhi did not see any religious indifference in the incident. "Dr Kunbhar is my family doctor. He is humble and respects minorities. Instead of taking action against TMA Umerkot – which is the actual culprit – the media has diverted the attention of masses on the basis of religion," said Malhi. Malhi added that despite having million rupees budget, the municipal committee is not providing any equipment – even a mask that a worker could wear before doing the hazardous job.
He said municipal committee authorities are trying to divert the case to the doctors. "They have paid Rs.50,000 to the families of the victims to remain silent," claimed Malhi. He said that sections of the case are bailable and soon the sanitary inspectors will get bail.
Like other districts of Sindh, manual scavenging is still a common practice in Umerkot. Not just the private contractors, even government authorities and state departments like TMAs are forcing sanitary workers to go inside manholes to clean the drainage system, where toxic gases hit these workers, and they die of asphyxiation while carrying out cleaning in the underground drainage system.
"The negligence of doctor is condemnable, but the role of the municipal committee is entirely ignored by the media and police authorities while registering the case," said Ali Akbar Rahimoon, a social activist of district Umerkot. He stated that municipal committee Umerkot purchases tractors and other equipment, but not the safety kits, instruments and equipment required by sanitary staff. He added that there is no training of the workers on safety and the municipal committee has not allocated any budget for the welfare of sanitary workers.
However, special assistant to Sindh chief minister on minority affairs, Dr Khatumal Jeevan said that initially, it was the irresponsibility of municipal committee, but later the worker died when doctors refused to treat him. He said, “With approximately 1.6 million population and half of them being religious minorities, Umerkot district was once the hub of religious harmony among Muslim and religious minorities. But now the intolerance has increased in the district due to rising religious extremism. "We are conducting an inquiry to find out the failures of municipal committee, but actual culprit is the doctor who refused to treat the patient not because he was filthy, but because of his belief," he said.
Syed Noor Ali Shah, Chairman District Council Umerkot claimed that all sanitary workers have safety kits and required items. “We have kits, but our sanitary inspectors have not handed over these kits to the sanitary workers for which we are conducting an inquiry to find out the actual reasons,” Shah told Daily Times over the telephone. He further said that not just the sanitary inspectors, but sanitary workers too have to take safety measures by themselves. “We will take action against sanitary inspectors. The workers must refuse to go inside if they are not given the kits,” he said.
Lal Chand Baleshahi, a sanitary worker from Umerkot, said that municipal committee and union councils are not giving them are safety equipment. “Not only this but they deduct from our salaries, and sometimes we are not even paid. There is no welfare fund for us if we fall ill or die during duty,” said Baleshahi.
Umerkot is the native district of former chief minister Sindh Muzaffar Hussain Shah. In the past, almost every cabinet had a provincial minister from the region – currently PPP leader and provincial minister Sardar Ali Shah. Recently, a Sindhi newspaper published a photo of the civil hospital where patients were being treated under the canopy of a ceremonial tent. Locals say that hospital lacks basic facilities including doctors, medicine, wards and oxygen.