Four persons, three engineers and a worker, were suffocated to death Friday while testing a sewage treatment plant at a southern Indian car factory.
Police said the deaths occurred in the night when engineers from Thermax, a wste water treatment firm, were supervising construction work at the sewage recycling plant in the Hyundai car factory situated not far from Chennai, capital of the state of Tamil Nadu.
Another person, who developed breathing difficulties and fainted after inhaling methane, was admitted to hospital but stated to be out of danger.
According to the Deputy Superintendent of Police P. Balasubramaniam, the incident took place at around 8-30 p.m. at the waste water treatment plant, phase-II..
The victims site engineer Maran of Chennai; electrical engineer Mohan and chemical engineer Sirish, both hailing from Pune in western India and a labourer, Muthu from interior Tamil Nadu were working at the underground waste water treatment plant, which had been put on trial run only a few months ago.
Those waiting outside were worried when Maran and others failed to respond to their repeated calls. A labourer, also from Pune, was lowered into the plant to find out what was happening.
Santosh, the worker, raised an alarm and fainted. He was quickly pulled out and rushed to hospital. Maran and his colleagues were found dead.
A First Information Report has been filed and investigations are on but no culpability has been levelled yet, police said.
The deaths have been recorded as "accidental". Police said all those killed were wearing safety masks meant to filter out noxious gases.
In a press statement, the management of Thermax and Hyundai Motor India Limited announced an interim relief of Rs.2 lakh each to the families of the deceased.
The Thermax management said it had contacted their families and was making arrangements to transport the bodies to their native places.
Deaths of workers while cleaning up sewage pits, operated by civic authorities or in individual houses, are almost a regular phenomenon in India. And workers are rarely provided with masks and other protective gear, critics have pointed out time and again.
But this is the first time such a terrible accident takes place in the premises of a prestigious car plant and engineers die of asphyxiation.
Observers say at least now health authorities could wake up from their deep slumber and ensure necessary safety measures are put in place.