New Delhi: With an aim to ensure that no person needs to enter a sewer or septic tank, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs launched the ‘Safaimitra Suraksha Challenge’ in 243 cities across the country on the occasion of World Toilet Day (November 19). According to Union Housing and Urban Affairs Minister Hardeep Singh Puri the challenge will be focusing on mechanising all sewer and septic tank cleaning operations by April 30, 2021 in all the select 243 cities. While launching the challenge via a webinar, Mr. Puri said that the mission of the challenge is to prevent any loss of life due to the issue of ‘hazardous cleaning’ of sewers and septic tanks.
Delighted to launch Safaimitra Suraksha Challenge across 243 cities. Based on PM Modi's vision to place safety & dignity of sanitation workers at the core of Swachh Bharat, it aims to ensure that no life is ever lost while cleaning sewer or septic tanks. pic.twitter.com/oGsR5pFw4T
— Hardeep Singh Puri (@HardeepSPuri) November 19, 2020
Addressing the webinar, Mr. Puri said that the move is in line with the Swachh Bharat Mission-Urban and stressed on the safety and dignity of sanitation workers. He said,
The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act (2013) and various judgements of Hon’ble Supreme Court expressly prohibit hazardous cleaning, i.e. manual entry into a septic tank or sewer without protective gear and observing operating procedures. Despite this, recurring episodes of human fatalities among those engaged in cleaning of septic tanks and sewers, typically belonging to the economically disadvantaged and marginalised communities of society, continue to be an issue of concern.
The minister also highlighted that the success of the challenge does not only depend on the intent and commitment of political representatives, bureaucrats or municipal authorities but also on the citizens of the country. He said,
Just like citizens have taken complete ownership of the Swachhata of their cities, their involvement in this endeavor is absolutely crucial.
Explaining about the challenge, Union Housing and Urban Affairs Secretary Durga Shanker Mishra said that the challenge will focus extensively on creating citizen awareness on this critical issue along with infrastructure creation for mechanised cleaning and capacity building of workforce. He added,
A dedicated helpline number has been set up to register complaints and provide real-time solutions on desludging or sewer overflow. The actual on-ground assessment of participating cities will be conducted in May 2021 by an independent agency and results of the same will be declared on 15 August 2021.
According to the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, cities will be awarded in three sub-categories – with population of more than 10 lakhs, 3-10 lakhs and upto 3 lakhs, with a total prize money of Rs. 52 crores to be given to winning cities across all categories. The virtual event saw the chief secretaries, state mission directors and other senior state and union territories coming together to take a pledge on behalf of 243 cities and gave their commitment to work towards preventing any deaths from hazardous entry.
While commenting on the initiative launched by the centre, Ramon Magsaysay awardee, Bezwada Wilson who has been fighting against manual scavenging for over 35 years said,
It is a welcoming step. However, a lot is still not known about the initiative. Who will receive the machines? Who will monitor? Who will be held accountable for the implementation? How will they give training? As far as I know, nothing has been worked out yet. The biggest issue is, the government has not yet identified the people involve in manual scavenging. Before launching the scheme, all these vital aspects should have been factored in. Even though mechanisation of sewer and septic cleaning is very much needed, the way this initiative has been launched seems to be a hasty act. Such piece-meal approach will not be effective in the long run. A holistic approach seems to be missing which is evident from the fact that till date the government has not been able to identify the manual scavengers.
The Evil Of Manual Scavenging In India
According to the Population Census 2011, manual scavenging, even after being banned, is the primary occupation of over 1.8 lakh Dalit families. As per the data collated by Safai Karamchari Andolan, about 1,760 people have died because of manual scavenging in the past 20 years. SKA’s estimates show that over 7.7 lakh workers have been sent into sewers since 1993 with complete knowledge and awareness of the dire consequences. There are nearly 26 lakh dry latrines across the country where humans are employed for cleaning excreta to earn their bread and butter.
The Central and the State governments have been taking steps to tackle the menace of manual scavenging including amending the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993 and enforcing a new Act, Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013. The act provides for identification of the manual scavengers and rehabilitation them by providing skill training to them and enabling them to find alternative means of livelihood.
NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. Only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene.
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