Editorials News

Time to get angry over manual scavenging

Life is cheap in India, and gets cheaper as you go down the socio-economic scale. 

Published: 11th March 2017 04:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 11th March 2017 07:50 AM   |  A+A-

Life is cheap in India, and gets cheaper as you go down the socio-economic scale. Otherwise, how would you explain continuing manual scavenging deaths though the despicable practice of engaging fellow men to manually handle untreated human waste was banned about 25 years ago? The latest incident in Bengaluru claimed the lives of three poor men. And going by our pitiable track record in eradicating the practice, they won’t be the last to die cleaning sewers.

The practice was first banned in 1993, but the law then focused more on sanitation. In 2013, another law was passed, this time fixing state liability, addressing the human dignity angle and providing for rehabilitation.

The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, made it clear that no person or agency can engage someone to clean sewers or septic tanks.

The Supreme Court too stepped in, saying `10 lakh compensation should be given in every case of manhole death. It even asked the government to identify families of all those died doing such work since 1993 and pay compensation. 

But three years on, little seems to have changed. Agencies tasked with cleaning sewers still engage manual labour, mainly because manpower is cheap and easily available, whereas machines are not. Workers still don’t get protective gear and safety guidelines are ignored, only because people who hire them know they can get away with murder.

At least 60 died while cleaning sewers in Karnataka in the last 10 years, but compensation was given in only 23 cases. And not a single person has been held responsible and punished. There’s also under-reporting of deaths, and officials brazenly collaborate with private contractors to hush up cases. Governments can’t live in denial.

The ban mandated by law must be strictly enforced, and the violators made to face exemplary punishment. No one should be allowed to toy with the lives and dignity of the poor and exploit their desperation.

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