2017 saw India progress technologically by leaps and bounds. The world watched us in awe, as we successfully launched a record-breaking 104 nano-satellites. Yet, we still don't use technology to maintain the sewage system of our country.
Since January 2017, 65 deaths have already occurred in the sewers, with 7 deaths in a span of 20 days, in India’s capital city. But these numbers do not irk the Government at all.
Manual scavenging is prohibited, under the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2103. It is a non-bailable criminal offence and warrants at least five years in prison. Then why are the governments turning a blind eye to these workers, knowing very well that they might not survive for long?
Deaths and compensations
According to the Supreme Court judgment, Safai Karamchari Andolan And Ors vs Union Of India And Ors on 27 March, 2014, the families of all persons who have died in sewerage work (manholes, septic tanks) since 1993 should be identified and be awarded a compensation of Rs.10 lakhs for each such death to the family members depending on them. But the implementation of the judgement has been completely dismal.
Divas Vats of Safai Karmachari Andolan (SKA) spoke to Newsclick and said “Our movement has been able to document 81 deaths in Delhi since 1993. Till date none of the victims’ family members have received the full compensation recommended by the Supreme Court.” Regarding the eradication of manual scavenging and preventing deaths of workers engaged in such work Mr Vats said that SKA has been demanding an ‘Action Plan’ from the Arvind Kejriwal-led Delhi Government. He also asserted that it is the job of the government to maintain records of such data.
Is it that there is no technology to clean the sewers and septic tanks?
Speaking to Newsclick, Manoj Singh, Country Manager of Rigid Tools, said, “I have been thinking about the deaths of people in the sewers. Technology is available even in India to prevent the humans from entering the manhole. But our governments don’t use ‘them.” He stated that they were currently offering services to big hotels to address the drainage issues, without people having to enter the manholes. He said, that they have even approached the Delhi Municipal Corporations and the Delhi Jal Board with the technology. “In the past, we have tried selling these units to municipal corporations but no one entertained us.” He goes on to say, that officials have admitted to employing cheap contract workers instead of buying expensive technology. Does that mean the Government is willingly sending the workers into death traps, as it is easier to pay a token compensation to the deceased workers family than adopting modern technology?
Gargeya Telakapalli of Delhi Science Forum says, “If the government spends even a certain part of its money it spends on advertisements and Swachh Bharath Mission, with technology we can remove the need of people to enter the sewers to clean.”
How much of this is a caste prejudice?
The officials’ attitude towards the Safai Karmacharis is nothing less than that of disgust. Sunil Yadav, a PhD student by day and Mumbai’s muncipal worker by night, wanted a transfer to another ward of the municipality. But all he got was a suspendsion letter, no transfer orders. “Today, I am qualified to be a labour officer but have not got a promotion. It reflects the mentality. People from our caste have to remain bonded labourers forever, no matter what we do,” he said.
Sunil Yadav earlier had approached the National Commission for Schedule Castes, as his department was not granting study leave to pursue his M Phil from Tata Institute of Social Sciences.
“There is a clear discrimination, the Safai Karmachari family members face, as their job orders are delayed for no reason when recommended for employment on compassionate grounds,” said Sant Lal Chawaria, Chaiperson Delhi Commission for Safai Karamcharis. He noted that the Commission has a meeting with the Delhi Jal Board Officals
Dalip of the Dalit Social Mukti Manch [DSMM], says that there is a government circular that if workers, who work as Safai Karmacharis, pass their tenth grade, they can be promoted to Group C posts or posts that basically does not involve the manual labour. But no department has implemented it completely.
Till the people and workers themselves revolt against the practice of untouchability looks like the ruling class would not put an end to Manual Scavenging.
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are the author's personal views, and do not necessarily represent the views of Newsclick.