India

Speak up Delhi: How safe are our Swachh warriors?

The national Capital's deadly sewer tanks continue to claim lives of sanitation workers. On Sunday, a worker died in South-West Delhi's Dabri area, when he fell inside a sewage treatment tank while cleaning it.

On September 9, five men, aged between 22 and 30 years, died after inhaling toxic fumes while cleaning a sewer in west Delhi's Moti Nagar area. Of them, two working with the housekeeping department of the locality were forced to enter the sewer by the contractor after three others who went inside did not come out. The contractor also did not provide safety equipment to the men, the police said.

In the past 24 years, since 1994, 94 manual scavengers have died at work in Delhi. Of these, 12 deaths were recorded in 2017, the year that saw 300 deaths in the country otherwise as confirmed by Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment in Lok Sabha. A total of 1,470 people have been died cleaning sewer lines and septic tanks in the past few years.

As per the government laws, there is a strict ban on manual scavenging which is described under the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, as any kind of handling of human excreta including cleaning and disposing it of the toilets. But despite the ban, several thousands of manual scavengers exist in the country.

In an earlier count, it came out that there are over 53,000 manual scavengers in the country, and this number is only from 121 districts of the 600 districts in the country. The number is four times higher than the recorded data in 2017. Also, the Delhi government is yet to come up with the exact number of manual scavengers in the city.

However, activists have reiterated that the numbers are a gross under-representation, so have the government's own statistics. According to Census of India 2011, there are 740,078 households across the country where human excreta is removed by a person from a dry latrine. On top of this, there are also septic tanks, sewers, railway platforms from where human excreta is cleaned by people.

VIOLATION OF LAW

VOICES

Rules are being flouted with impunity because there are no checks. What happened was very tragic. Is there no value of life? Manual scavenging was practised centuries ago and social reformers worked so hard to get it eradicated. How can those engaging them be so foolish and callous?— Dheeraj Kumar, Corporate professional

The practice of manual scavenging has long been banned, but sadly, only on paper. The tragic death of sanitation workers should be an eye-opener for the authorities as well as the general public at large. Human life is precious and it should be valued.— Vandana Sharma, Housewife

People should think rationally and should not support manual scavenging by engaging workers into cleaning their gutters and toilets. This is absolutely sad. This is a serious matter and each life matters.— Parul, Delhi University teacher

I have been seeing manual scavengers since I was a child, that means many decades. I have always felt bad for the work that they have to do and wish that government takes this matter more seriously and punish those who break the law. Nobody should be given the task of cleaning another person's excreta.— Anand Pal, Senior citizen

Have we not learned anything from the numerous deaths and the pain of the family members, who have lost their earning member.? There should be another way, just like in foreign countries, to clear the sewers and tanks, instead of sending people inside to die.— Sarita Devi, Housewife

It is really unfortunate that sanitation workers died after inhaling toxic fumes while cleaning a sewer. This is how we treat people who clean our mess. This is illegal and we shouldn't take anyone's life lightly.— Neeraj Kumar, Professional

EXPERT SPEAK

Manual scavenging is banned in the country and if any person is found indulging in or forcing someone to engage in manual scavenging, he should be put behind bars. It is completely banned and does happen in the government buildings, but there are private sectors where sewer cleaners are called upon. It is atrocious that a huge real estate giant like DLF can do such a thing. We take this issue extremely seriously and make sure that anyone who indulges in this is duly punished.— Nagendra Sharma, Delhi government spokesperson

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