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After 10 Deaths In Five Weeks In The Capital, Delhi Government Cracks The Whip On Manual Scavenging

Deaths due to manual scavenging saw a surge in the past three months, with the capital alone witnessing more 10 deaths in less than two months

Delhi government puts blanket ban on manual scavenging
  • The Delhi government orders a complete ban on manual scavenging
  • Those employing manual scavengers to be booked under culpable homicide
  • Delhi government will launch a campaign against manual scavenging

New Delhi: The objectives of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan can never be fulfilled if the professional hazards associated with manual cleaning of toilets remains unaddressed. In the wake of the death of ten sewer cleaners in the last five weeks, the Delhi government on August 21 placed a blanket ban on manual scavenging on sewage system cleaning. The ban was placed by the Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal after a joint meeting held between the Lt. Governor and Chief Minister of Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal. Also present during the meeting were prominent members of the state government cabinet and public health officials.

Despite the existence of two legislations of 1993 and 2013 which prohibits the employing any person to clean dry latrines or sewers, manual scavenging remains a regular practice across India. Between July and August 2017, 10 deaths were reported from various parts of the Capital alone, all allegedly due to manual scavengers being employed by contractors. In the case of three people who died at Lajpat Nagar on August 6, the dead were renounced by the Delhi Jal Board (DJB), which stated that they had not directly employ them, thus avoiding any accountability. The accused were apprehended by the police, but if records are to be believed, the rate of conviction related to manual scavenging deaths are negligible, thus retaining the risk of the practice continuing.

Between May and July 4 this year, there have been 39 deaths related to manual scavenging all over the country. The Lieutenant Governor issued directions to the Delhi government to ensure that there is 100 per cent transition from manual to mechanised cleaning of sewers and drains. The Lt. Governor also directed the government to prepare a strict set of rules within seven days, which would be a must for contractors to follow and to provide an intensive report on how the process of cleaning sewers can be mechanised. He also stated that defaulters found guilty of violating the rules would be subjected to strict action by the police.

The meeting which was attended by Delhi Water Minister Rajendra Pal Gautam, saw some positive outcomes. The Delhi government has notified the Delhi Jal Board, which is in charge of maintaining the city’s sewers, to submit names of registered contractors and operators who employ manual labourers for cleaning up sewers and drains. In case of any more incidents, the contractor will be blacklisted and no contract would be given to the party, henceforth. Further, the contractor will be booked under Indian Penal Code Section 304 which punishes the culprit for culpable homicide not amounting to murder. The Delhi government also promised to take action against DJB officials and engineers involved with projects which employs manual scavengers.

The Delhi government’s move is a welcome one since the death rates due to manual scavenging in Delhi have gone up in the past one year, and especially the past month. The apathy of institutions such as the Delhi Jal Board is not even concealed anymore and as long as those responsible for these deaths are not convicted, the practice will continue, said Bezwada Wilson, national convener of Safai Karmachari Andolan.

Mr Gautam added that the Delhi government will begin an elaborate campaign against manual scavenging and plans to install hoardings all across the city, denouncing the practice. As far as acquiring machines for cleaning up sewers and drains are concerned, the Delhi government will work in tandem with the DJB and all the civic bodies responsible for keeping Delhi clean. The government will ask DJB to submit the estimated cost for buying the machines, post which the government will begin the process to acquire the necessary machines. Delhi Police has also been briefed by the government on the importance of the issue and has been instructed to take strict action against contractors engaged in the practice of employing manual scavengers.

Though eradication of manual scavenging is a mentioned objective under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan guidelines, not much has been said or done about the issue in nearly three years of the sanitation programme. The Delhi government’s meeting up on the issue is a welcome change when deaths due to manual scavenging are still a reality in India and so is the apathy of administrations in addressing or dealing with the issue. Other states can take a cue from the Delhi government and reinforce the ban on manual scavenging, and in the process save many who are daily exploited and discriminated by the practice.

Also Read: 39 Deaths In 100 Days: How Manual Scavenging Continues To Exist In India Despite It Being Illegal

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