KARACHI: Despite passage of two days, Umerkot police have not arrested five persons nominated in the case in which a sanitary worker died after being 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, sanitary worker Irfan Masih descended into a manhole to clear underground drainage line where he inhaled poisonous gas and asked for help so another worker Yaqoob Masih went to rescue him but both of them fainted and later two more workers Faisal and Shaukat went inside to rescue but all of them fainted.
They were brought to Civil Hospital, where, as per media reports, doctors refused to treat them until filth on their bodies was cleared. Later, families and relatives staged a protest against the doctors.
Though, the media held Civil Hospital Umerkot's doctors responsible, local residents held Municipal Committee Umerkot responsible for the incident, which forced the workers to go inside manhole without any precautionary equipment. Also, the hospital was without basic facilities such as oxygen.
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) MNA Lal Malhi doesn't see any religious indifference in the incident. He said that Civil Hospital Medical Superintendent Dr Jam Kunbhar, who was arrested for not treating late Irfan Masih, until, as per reported by newspapers and television channels, filthy body would not be cleaned. "Dr Kunbhar is my family doctor, he is humble and respects minorities, but 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. However, Malhi said that despite having millions of rupees budget, Municipal Committee was not providing any equipments, even a mask that a worker could wear before doing hazardous job.
He said Municipal Committee authorities were 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 were bailable and soon the sanitary inspectors would get bail.
Like other districts of Sindh, in Umerkot districts, manual scavenging is still a common practice. Not just the private contractors, but even government authorities and state-departments like TMAs are forcing sanitary workers to go inside manholes to clean the drainage system, where these workers hit by toxic gases and die of asphyxiation while carrying out cleaning in the underground drainage system.
"The negligence of doctor is condemnable but the role of municipal committee is totally ignored by the media and police authorities while registering the case," said Ali Akbar Rahimoon, a social activist of district Umerkot. He said that Municipal Committee Umerkot purchases tractors and other equipments, but not the safety kits, instruments and equipments required by sanitary staff. He said that there is no any training of the workers on safety and 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 irresponsibility of Municipal Committee, but later the worker died when doctors refused to treat him. He said that with around 1.6 million population and half of them are religious minorities, the Umerkot district was once 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 inquiry to find out the failures of Municipal Committee but actual culprit is the doctor who refused to treat patient not because he was filthy, but because of his belief," he said.
Umerkot is the native district of former chief minister Sindh Muzaffar Hussain Shah and in the past almost every cabinet someone select provincial minister, as currently PPP leader and provincial minister Sardar Ali Shah is also native to Umerkot, but district lacks basic facilities. Recently, a Sindhi newspaper published a photo of civil hospital where patients were being treated under the canopy of a ceremonial tent. Locals say that hospital lacks basic facilities including required doctors, medicine, wards and oxygen.