From September 9 to September 19, more than 11 people have died while cleaning sewers and septic tanks in India. In the nine months of 2018 alone, about 89 people have died this way in the country. In 2017, 136 such deaths were recorded. According to this data, on an average every second or third day, a manual scavenger dies in a gutter or sewer.
Despite manual scavengers dying such ghastly deaths, the Central government has no data on these deaths. Even after a clear order by the Supreme Court, the Central government has not developed any mechanism to record these deaths. No initiative has been taken yet to prevent such deaths.
On the other hand, according to the data collected by the National Commission for Safai Karamcharis, one scavenger dies in a sewer every five days. But this data comprises of the figures collected only in 13 states. While the Safai Karamchari Andolan—an organisation which works for the eradication of manual scavenging and prevention of the deaths of workers cleaning sewers—has collected data of 1,800 such deaths all across the country. Further, the organisation has not been keeping this data to themselves. It has been writing to parliamentarians on the basis of these findings. During the last Monsoon Session of Parliament, Safai Karamchari Andolan members wrote to many MPs expressing deep concern about such deaths.
In these letters, they appealed to MPs to take immediate action regarding the plight of manual scavengers. The government did not take any cognisance of these letters, although many ministries wrote back asking questions related to the collection of these data.
Bezwada Wilson of the Safai Karamchari Andolan: “The number of scavengers dying in gutters will increase under the Swachh Bharat campaign because there is no arrangement for the disposal of the excretion in all these newly constructed toilets... The government is not taking any steps to prevent such deaths, it is only concerned about building more and more toilets. It is shameful”
While the Central and state governments have no data related to the deaths of scavengers in gutters, they have all the data related to toilet-building all over the country under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pet Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. According to government data, at present, 123 toilets are being constructed every hour across the country. In the budget for the year 2017-18, ₹13,948 crores have been allocated for Swachh Bharat Mission (rural) and ₹2,300 crores for urban areas. Comparatively, only ₹5 crores has been allocated for rehabilitation of manual scavengers
Bezwada Wilson, one of the leaders of the Safai Karamchari Andolan says, “the number of scavengers dying in gutters will increase under the Swachh Bharat campaign because there is no arrangement for the disposal of the excretion in all these newly constructed toilets. Only humans can clean all these septic tanks and open drains. The government is not taking any steps to prevent such deaths, it is only concerned about building more and more toilets, it is shameful.”
Congress President Rahul Gandhi, taking note of the most recent case of a death of a man in Delhi while cleaning a sewer, slammed the Modi Government on September 19, saying “Anil’s tragic death in the sewers of Delhi and photographs of his grieving son have made headlines worldwide. Our PM’s “Swacch Bharat” is a hollow slogan, when he’s blind to the plight of thousands of manual scavengers forced to excavate toilets and sewer lines in inhuman conditions.”