Stop sending Indian citizens to their death    

Indian authorities need to urgently mechanise cleaning of sewers and strictly implement the 2013 Anti-Scavenging Act

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

Bhasha Singh

In a span of 21 days, seven Indian citizens lost their lives in the Capital’s noxious sewers. On the eve of Rakshabandhan, three Dalit men: Joginder (32),  Annu (28) and Mohanlal (21) died while cleaning a toxic manhole in the heart of South Delhi’s Lajpat Nagar.

This was their fourth manhole of the day, where they all died after being overcome by deadly noxious gasses. All three were daily workers, hired for just Rs 300 per head, by a local contractor, Dinesh. Dinesh regularly executes such contracts for the Delhi Jal Board.

Sunday’s incident is not an isolated case. In the ongoing Monsoon session of Parliament, Safai Karamchari Andolan (SKA), a national organisation working for elimination of manual scavenging, had petitioned more than 500 members of Parliament, requesting them to put a stop to the criminal loss of life.

In its note, the SKA alleged that from April 1 to July 10, i.e., in less than 100 days, 39 people lost their lives while cleaning the sewers and septic tanks in the country. In the last three years an estimated 1,500 people have lost their life to gutters.

Despite the existence of the anti-manual scavenging act (the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Act of 2013) and the March 27, 2014 Supreme Court order to immediately ban this practice – majority of Dalits continue to be engaged in cleaning of underground drains. The SC had in its order had underlined that, “For sewer deaths, entering sewer lines without safety gear should be made a crime even in emergency situations.”

Manual scavenging can only be ended if the authorities undertake to modernise and mechanise the cleaning processes, so that no human is required to be sent to unclog a sewer or a septic tank.

The states need to strictly implement the 2013 anti-manual scavenging act, so that such incidents don’t ever occur in the future.

In situations where a man is sent into a sewer – authorities should ensure the best safety gear available. Currently, there is no data available on quality of safety gear with municipal corporations or if any such equipment exists. In addition, most of the city sewers in the country are narrow, worn out, decrepit and crumbling and offer no space for a human to operate with say, an oxygen cylinder on his back.

In most cases, sanitation work is out sourced to contractors who operate without any monitoring. The municipal agencies could start by making it mandatory for contractors to use approved safety gear, failing which a criminal negligence case should be slapped on them. In case of death, the authorities under whose area loss of human life occurs, should also be held liable for stringent punishment for the laxity.

Follow us on: Facebook, Twitter, Google News, Instagram 

Join our official telegram channel (@nationalherald) and stay updated with the latest headlines

Published: 09 Aug 2017, 1:46 AM