VIJAYAWADA : It is not uncommon to see workers unclogging manholes with sticks and rods, without wearing shoes, gloves or masks in Vijayawada. But it’s not just this city. In fact, not even a single conservancy worker in Andhra Pradesh is fully equipped with safety gear.
Over 2,000 such workers go down the drains every single day in major municipal corporations like Vijayawada, Visakhapatnam, Tirupati, Guntur, Kurnool, Anantapur, Rajahmundry, Kakinada, Eluru and Ongole.
Though there is a ban on manual scavenging under the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, the practice continues unabated, with official sanction in the state. Two workers died due to suffocation near the civil courts complex in March last year.
One had gone down a manhole to clear it, but toxic fumes paralysed him. His colleague, in a bid to save him, got inside only to suffer the same fate. Despite the tragedy, nothing has changed. Over the last eight years, seven workers have died, even as the Vijayawada Municipal Corporation (VMC) paid no attention.
Across the state, at least 25 workers have died in this fashion. Municipal corporations entrust the task of manual scavenging to private contractors, but the latter claim it’s the duty of the civic body to equip workers.
A senior official of Underground Drainage wing of the VMC, on condition of anonymity, admitted that workers do not have safety equipment, but reasoned that there was “no necessity” for the same.