'We'd cleaned another sewer day before without safety gear'

New Delhi, Aug 21 (IANS): Looking up from a depth of 12 feet in a sewer with less than a metre-wide opening, Sumit on Sunday recalled holding Rishi Pal tight to his body and signalled those standing at the manhole opening above to pull them up, before passing out.

However, Sumit rued, he failed to save Rishi, 40, as he was declared brought dead at the hospital minutes later on Sunday afternoon.

Bishan, 30, Kiran, 25, and Sumit, 19, had fallen unconscious after inhaling poisonous gases from the sewer at the Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan Hospital here.

"We'd cleaned another sewer at the hospital a day before without safety gears, but nothing happened," Sumit said, sitting barefoot at a city police station, sporting a soiled and well-worn red T-shirt.

He recalled that Rishi Pal, Bishan and Sumit had gone to clean the sewer around 12 p.m.

Usually, they entered the sewer using a ladder, but on Sunday Rishi used a rope to climb down after sending Sumit to fetch the ladder.

Sumit said when he came back, Rishi was already at the bottom of the sewer and was collecting waste.

"I yelled 'are you okay?' and he replied 'I'm good'," Sumit said. But soon after, Rishi fainted.

Sumit and Bishan started shouting for help, following which Kiran arrived and went down the manhole, but he too fainted.

"That's when I went inside. But the gases were hitting me too hard and I could only make it only half way down before coming up," Sumit said.

However, he did not give up. With a doctor's green mask and a handkerchief tied across his face, Sumit went down and rescued Kiran in his third or fourth attempt.

The Delhi Fire Service arrived at the spot but were helpless in getting the two out.

"Their oxygen cylinders got stuck at the one-metre wide manhole and were thus not able to go down the sewer," Sumit said.

After Hospital staff arrived with smaller oxygen cylinders and connected tubes to it, Sumit put on an oxygen mask and went down the manhole.

It was after 20 agonising minutes that he could take Rishi out. However, Rishi was declared brought dead at the hospital minutes later.

Asked if he was afraid entering the sewer many times over, Sumit said: "When a human is dying, will you think or save him?"

"Do write that the government should help his (Rishi Pal) family, which includes his wife and three children. Who'll look after his children now? You should definitely write about it," Sumit told IANS.


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