Workers continue to die in Sewers but the State claims ‘NO DATA’


  • August 4, 2021
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The claim made by Athawale in Parliament that ‘No deaths have been reported due to manual scavenging’, in last five years, is gross injustice to the ones who’ve lost their lives. Dalit Adivasi Shakti Adhikar Manch (DASAM) condemns the statement made by the Ministers and calls for the recognition of the lives lost and adequate steps to remove the clauses which act as hindrances in the justice system and act as a shield for the perpetrators behind the death of Safai Karamcharis.

According to a study conducted by WaterAid India, ‘One manual scavenger dies every five days in India since January 2017’. This study is based on data from the National Commission for Safai Karamcharis (NCSK), a statutory body created for the welfare of sanitation workers under the Ministry for Social Justice and Empowerment. The numbers which make up to the tally of the dead are only the cases which are registered with the local police. Our work has shown that to register a F.I.R for such death is a task in itself and many deaths go unregistered and unrecognised. The perpetrator behind the death roam scot free.

 

3 August, 2021 | New Delhi:

On July 28, 2021, The Union social justice minister of state Ramdas Athawale when asked about ‘the number of people engaged in manual scavenging who have died during the last five years’, responded, ‘No such deaths have been reported due to manual scavenging’. However, he added that 282 deaths of safai karamcharis were reported between 2016 and 2019.

 

Five months before, in February, Athawale in Lok Sabha said that 340 people had died while cleaning sewers or septic tanks in the last five years. The statistics have been taken only from the cases registered in 19 states/UTSs in which Uttar Pradesh recorded the maximum deaths, I.e. 53.

 

The discrepancy between the two responses is worth noting. Other than the data stated, there is also a discrepancy in the understanding of who a manual scavenger really is. The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers Act 2013 defines a ‘manual scavenger’ as someone who is engaged or employed by an individual or a local authority or an agency or a contractor, for manually cleaning, carrying, disposing of, or otherwise handling in any manner, human excreta in an insanitary latrine or in an open drain or pit into which the human excreta from the insanitary latrines is disposed of, or on a railway track or in such other spaces or premises before the excreta fully decomposes in such manner. It further adds that if the employed person is provided with protective gear to clean excreta, he shall not be deemed as a manual scavenger.

 

The government distinguishes between manual scavenging as cleaning human excreta by hand and the practice of cleaning sewers and septic tanks whereas the latter is just the extension of the former practice. The persons who were earlier employed in manual cleaning of human excreta are now employed in cleaning sewers. The occupation which is life threatening, is a caste based practice meted out to the Dalit community majorly.

 

The exemption of considering the practice as manual scavenging on the basis of ‘protective gears’ is also delusional. The elaborate protective gears which have been mentioned in the guidelines are missing when the person employed goes on to clean a sewer.

 

DASAM has been working for the safety, dignity and rights of sewer workers for the last three years. We’ve conducted several fact findings on the subject matter. It has been noted that no protective gear is provided to the workers when they go on site to work. In a few instances, a mask was provided following Covid 19.

 

The workers who are considered as ‘safai karamcharis’ by the government go inside the sewer/septic tank with a maximum of a rope tied to their waste for their protection. The protective gears are put up as mere showpieces in their stores to show that precautions are being taken care of whereas the reality is far from it.

 

The flaws in the Act and the elaborate justice system further add to the misery of the workers who continue to die in the sewer. Even if we consider the deaths which have been reported as deaths of safai karamcharis, the number is an undervaluation of the deaths which have actually occurred.

 

According to a study conducted by WaterAid India, ‘One manual scavenger dies every five days in India since January 2017’. This study is based on data from the National Commission for Safai Karamcharis (NCSK), a statutory body created for the welfare of sanitation workers under the Ministry for Social Justice and Empowerment.

 

The numbers which make up to the tally of the dead are only the cases which are registered with the local police. Our work has shown that to register a F.I.R for such death is a task in itself and many deaths go unregistered and unrecognised. The perpetrator behind the death roam scot free.

 

The claim made by Athawale is gross injustice to the ones who’ve lost their lives. DASAM condemns the statement made by the Ministers and calls for the recognition of the lives lost and adequate steps to remove the clauses which act as hindrances in the justice system and act as a shield for the perpetrators behind the death of workers.

 

By Press release

Ena Zafar, Ashok Kumar

Dalit Adivasi Shakti Adhikar Manch (DASAM)

 

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