Sanjay Singh, 17, stumbled upon a pair of flailing hands sticking out of a manhole on AJC Bose Road, off SSKM Hospital, on Tuesday morning. The hands belonged to a child struggling to come out.
What followed was a series of coordinated actions led by the teenager, that led to the rescue of the child and a youth from the pit.
Sanjay Oraon, 27, who was frothing in the mouth following inhalation of poisonous gas, was rushed to SSKM Hospital, where he died hours later.
There was a third person in the manhole who was dead when Singh peeped through the opening. Police said the man, Ratan Burman, died of the toxic effect of the gas inside. Both Oraon and Burman were from Baidyabati, Hooghly.
Neither could the child be traced, nor was there any explanation of what led him to enter the manhole. “He must have been inside for a minute or even less and ran away after being pulled out,” the officer added.
Oraon, Burman and two others — engaged by a public works department (PWD) contractor — were working in the manhole, off the post office gate of SSKM Hospital, for the past two days.
“Oraon entered the pit around 8am on Tuesday. He felt breathless a few minutes later and cried out for help, prompting Burman to jump in to his rescue,” said an officer of Hastings police station.
Singh, who works in a jewellery store on Pretoria Street, was on way to work with colleagues Utpal and Ujjal, who are twins, when he spotted the child’s outstretched arms.
“I paused, bent down and pulled him out. Then I saw another man inside, submerged and struggling to hold on to the iron railings,” recalled Singh.
“Utpal and Ujjal, walking a few steps ahead, had joined me by then and the three of us dropped down a rope tied to a bucket. The man caught hold of the rope and came out,” said Singh. The three looked down again and saw a body floating in the water.
Civic officials, including chief engineer (drainage) Tushar Kanti Ghosh and mayoral council member (sewerage) Farzana Chaudhury, came to the spot. Chaudhury alleged that the PWD had not taken permission from the civic body before starting to clean the manhole.
The civic officials later started a “flushing operation” to find out whether anyone else was trapped in the pit.
A case of negligence has been lodged against the PWD contractor who hired the four workers.