Inmates clean out city's underbelly

Inmates clean out city's underbelly

Flecked with sewage, a prisoner grapples with an overflowing bucket as he and his fellow inmates clean Bangkok's congested drains for the first time in two years.

Pre-pandemic, convicts could volunteer to clear the sewers of the capital -- which sits only 1.5 metres (5 feet) above sea level and is perennially beset by flooding -- earning time off their sentences.

But fears of spreading the virus meant the gutter-diving work has been done by city authorities and workers until now.

"It is a pretty tough and exhausting job," said one 33-year-old prisoner, who was not permitted to give his name, adding that the work was "smelly".

He is one of roughly 80 inmates shipped in from three prisons to an eastern Bangkok suburb and set to labour, earning money and a day off their sentences for each day worked.

"I still want to do this job so I can return home to my family earlier," added the inmate, wearing a bright blue baseball cap and a dark blue prison uniform.

After hauling up the concrete slabs covering the drains, the inmates -- wearing protective waders and heavy-duty gloves -- drop down and remove the grime, filling large iron tubs with stinking slop.

They work through the day, fuelled by donations from grateful shopkeepers pleased to see the drains outside their stores finally cleared.

Once dubbed the "Venice of the East", the capital endures flooding during the rainy season from July to October with backed-up drains contributing.

Early this month, City Hall approved a Department of Corrections proposal to use prison labour to clean the sewers in Bangkok and improve flood drainage, officially starting on July 1.

Bangkok governor Chadchart Sittipunt and the heads of the city drainage department approved the plan at a meeting with Department of Corrections chief Aryut Sinthopphan.

It was agreed the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration would hire the department to unclog sewers, using prisoners with good records.

Previously, the city administration could not hire the department to do the work due to conditions set under the procurement law in 2017.

Use of prisoners must take into consideration human rights and they must volunteer, receive wages, safety equipment and welfare benefits.

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