The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Ignored, open jaws of death

It was a disaster waiting to happen. The morning-walkers, the hawkers, the couple on a stroll ' everyone knew it, save the cops.

And a few hours after the body of an unidentified man was pulled out of the Calcutta Telephones open-duct manhole on the Maidan, all the police could do was plug its mouth with twigs.

The six-ft-deep manhole, where the body was found on Wednesday morning, has been lying uncovered for months. Neither the police nor Calcutta Telephones felt the need to cover it. Or even report it.

Eleven days earlier, Jameel Shaw, a middle-aged tea vendor from Kidderpore, had fallen into the same manhole during his rounds on the Maidan.

He was lucky. It was evening and there were people around. With the help of passers-by, he managed to scramble out, though his right arm was severely injured .

'It was around 7.30 pm. I was selling tea to those who had parked their cars on the adjacent road. I didn't see the open manhole and stepped back into it after serving a customer. With the burning stove in hand, I sank in,' recounted Shaw.

He added: 'My arm caught fire. It was, luckily, doused by the sewage in the manhole. Several people rushed to my aid on hearing my screams.'

The father of three needed a week to recover from his injuries ' and the trauma. He still treads carefully around the manhole.

In October, a driver was injured while trying to park on Casuarina Avenue, near the manhole. The front wheel of the car got stuck.

Some vendors and passers-by had then helped the man lift the wheel out of the open manhole.

'There are two open manholes in the area, but no one is bothered. The officers on night patrol drive down Casuarina Avenue. They can't make out the manholes from a distance, since they are in the shade of the trees. Hundreds of people come here for their morning constitutionals,' stated Ram Babu Shaw, who sells peanuts on the Maidan. He and his fellow vendors often warn people of the danger ahead.

The other manhole is a few yards away, nearer to the Victoria Memorial. The concrete slab covering it, however, protects the passers-by from a serious accident.

'Around three months ago, a couple slipped into the manhole after falling off a motorcycle. We had to pull them out using our towel,' said Pawan Kumar, a bhelpuri vendor.

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