Manual scavenging: Neglect of smaller towns evident from a recent survey by human rights NGO Navsarjan Trust

dholka2By Counterview Desk

Despite the law against manual scavenging, which was made more stringent by Indian Parliament recently, new facts have come to light which go to suggest that Gujarat’s smaller towns are some the worst victims of the despicable age-old practice of manually removing excreta, imposed upon the valimiki community for generations. A recent case of Dholka town, situated around 50 kilometres from Ahmedabad, suggests that despite repeated reminders by NGOs fighting against manual scavenging, the state officialdom has failed come out its slumber, the practice continues till date.

The matter first came to light after a petition was filed by Manjula Pradeep, director, Navsarjan Trust, a Gujarat-based human rights, before the National Human Rights Commission (HHRC) in January 2013. She drew attention of the NHRC about “lack of basic facilities in Dholka town”, alleging, “The situation of public dry latrines and vaada toilets is very pathetic. There is no water facility in the toilets. The doors of toilets are broken. The open drainages are full of human waste and uncollected garbage. Because of extreme filth, people are defecating in the open. Basic facilities like clean drinking water, drainage, street light etc. are lacking in the city. Sanitation workers from the municipality are cleaning this vaada latrine and the prohibited work of manual scavenging is going on”.

The petitioner describes the miserable conditions prevailing in most various parts of Dholka, attaching alongside a survey of the town carried out by the Navsarjan Trust. She states that things have not improved despite several reminders, starting with a memorandum was submitted to the sub-divisional magistrate of Dholka November 16, 2009.

The Urban Development and Urban Housing Department, Government of Gujarat, submitted a report dated November 1, 2012, which claimed that the Dholka municipality had taken several steps to improve facilities in slum areas. The details of the works carried out include underground drainage at three different places, two of which had been completed; sanctioning of a total of 2,485 individual toilets between 2006-2007 and 2011-12; and setting up of eight pay-and-use toilets, adjoining the areas of public toilets. The municipality also decided to build more pay-and-use toilets.

On the basis of all this, the state government told the NHRC that the municipality “has tried to solve the problems of people and no violation of fundamental rights of the scheduled castes or any discrimination by the municipality has taken place in Dholka.” Yet, facts collected by the Navsarjan Trust volunteers suggest that while some of the toilets have been made and others are in the process of being constructed, manual scavenging per se remains intact, like before.

While construction of toilets has taken place in upper caste areas, the spots where the lower castes, particularly the Dalits, live, remain neglected like before. In fact, at several places, open defecation is rampant even today. The volunteers have found that at some places the municipality has not demolished the dry toilets, especially in the Dalit areas, nor have any individual toilets or no-pay-and-use toilets been constructed. Pradeep has told NHRC, “The state government report does not refer to certain areas such as Chitravada, Khijda Sheri, Zandiya Kuva, Sonar Kui/Bar Kotha and Sonar Kui/Vaghari Vas” at all. Based on her response, the NHRC on May 30, 2013 issued a fresh notice to the Gujarat government to submit a reply within four weeks. However, till date, it has not submitted any report.

Meanwhile, referring to Khastriya-Thakor Vas, Dholka municipality claims it has “eradicated open defecation and the uses of manual scavenging since 1981.” The public toilet in these areas, it says, has been “cleaned by using Maljet machine and the drainage water is being pumped into underground drainage line”. It adds, “Water supply has been arranged through a separate lock, tap and door to each units of the public toilet.” At the same time, it admits, local public theft is rampant, with taps and the lock being stolen. Hence, municipality decided to stop the public toilet and also put notice for the general public about it.

The Navsarjan Trust observes, “As people from the nearby areas do not have their own individual toilet, open defecation continues. In another area, Gundra, Dholka municipality claims to have eradicated the usage of manual scavenging by constructing pay-and-Use toilets, and even constructed individual toilets in the area, but public toilets are closed. It also constructed four dry latrine toilets (two for men and two for women) for this scheduled caste area.”

It adds, “Its cleaning is carried out by a particular municipality’s Safai Kamdar as open defecation continues in this area.   In Chui Fali, too, open defecation is continuing. Beneficiaries entitled to individual toilets in the SC area have not gained. Manual scavenging also continues Chitravada, Khijda Sheri , Zandiya Kuva, Sonar Kui and  Vaghari Vas, yet there is no reply on action taken on the part of the Dholka municipality.”

All this continues despite the fact that NHRC chairman KG Balakrishnan was requested about two years ago urgent action against the violation of “the fundamental rights of the scheduled castes (SCs) in Dholka city, Ahmedabad district, in the Form of discrimination by the local Dholka municipality against the SCs.” In a letter to Balakrishnan, Pradeep wondered why “people do not have their primary facilities like concrete roads, underground drainage system and safe drinking water” Dholka, even as there “are heaps of uncollected garbage in many streets and public places in the city.”

She said, “The state government’s Nirmal Gujarat Mission, ie the total sanitation drive, is supposed to provide cleanliness to every city in Gujarat, but Dholka city’s people have not seen any change whatsoever.” Though a memorandum to the sub-divisional magistrate of Dholka depicting facts by a citizen’s rights committee, “no proper action was taken by him”.

The memorandum reads, The City Development Department of the Gujarat State Government created the “Nirmal Gujarat” scheme as a strategy for the development of cities. But SC areas and undeveloped rural areas of Gujarat do not get the advantages of these facilities. Dholka municipality has established eight pay and use toilets for the public. Out of which the toilets located in Popatpara, Brahmin Pith, and the Taluka Panchayat area are dysfunctional and the other toilets which are functional do not remain open for public use 24 hours a day. In this situation, the municipality uses sanitation workers for cleaning these dry toilets and vaada toilets, despite the fact that this work is prohibited under Act.”

dholkaThe memorandum provides details of each area:

(a) Chitarvada:  In this area there is a population of 500 people from Muslim, Thakor and Patel communities. The local school is situated in this area and it is in front of the municipality. A public toilet, in which there is no water facility, is also built in front of school. This toilet is filled up with human waste, which spills out into the public road. As a result, children of the school and the local people’s health are at risk. Also, school children and buffaloes have fallen into an open manhole in this area. Information about this situation has been provided often by the school organizers to the municipality, but they are not taking any action. It is necessary that the dry latrines are to be converted into flush latrines and filth has to be removed from this area.

(b) Khijda Sheri: In this area there are 750 people from various castes, including Vankar, Valmiki, Brahmin, Devi Poojak, Raval and Patel communities. A Vaada latrine is directly adjacent to the Valimiki area, and it is used by people from all of the above castes for defecation. Because of the filthiness of human excrement, people in this area often suffer from serious sickness. Water is not regularly available in this area and there is problem of Street lighting as well. Sanitation workers from the municipality are  cleaning this vaada latrine and the prohibited work of manual scavenging is going on.

(c) Zandiya Kuva: The population of people from Vankar, Valmiki, Muslim and Devi Poojak communities in this area is 450. Adjacent to the Valmiki caste area, an old vaada latrine is constructed by the municipality. Here also, there is no water facility so the filth overflows in the open gutters. Dry latrines have been constructed in this area by the municipality, but their doors are broken and it creates filth and odour in the area putting local people’s health at risk. Drainage, street lighting and water are also other issues in this area.

(c) Kshatriya Thakor Vas: The population in this area is 600, made up of people from Thakor, Devi Poojak, Muslim and Bharwad communities. There are dry latrines under supervision of the Nagarpalika on the road sides, but their doors are in broken condition and as a result, women face many difficulties. Dry latrines and open drainages are full of human waste, so people defecate in the open and again women face more problems. This is the main road of the city so anyone using the road and the local people are affected from the filth. Health is the major issue of the people in this area.

(e) Govaliya Vas: The population in this area is mostly from Thakor and Muslim communities. There are dry latrines constructed by the Nagarpalika both for men and women. Approximately 300 people use these dry latrines every day. Human filth overflows from the toilets and gutters due to lack of water facility. Their doors are in broken condition, resulting in humiliating situations for many women. There is heaps of uncollected garbage around the toilets.  Open gutters are situated in front of residential areas, resulting in regular sickness amongst the residents. Information about this situation has been provided on many occasions to the Nagarpalika, but they have not taken any action. Sanitation workers from the Nagarpalika are cleaning this vaada latrine and the prohibited work of manual scavenging is going on.

(f)Gundra:- The population in this area is made up of people from Valmiki, Devi Poojak, and Patel communities. There are dry latrines constructed by the Nagarpalika in this area. Lack of proper drainage, street lighting and housing are the main issues being faced by people in this area.  Dry latrines are consistently full of human waste, resulting in frequent sickness of people in this area.

(g) Chui Fali: The population in this area is 350, made up of people from Valmiki, Devi Poojak, and Muslim communities. There are dry latrines in this area, and half of them have fallen down and are being used and are filled up with human waste. As a result, people defecate in the open. There are heaps of uncollected garbage and human waste in the area around the toilets. The health of Valmiki people in this area is at serious risk. Basic facilities such as clean water, proper drainage, street lighting and housing are not provided in this area by the Nagarpalika.

(h)Sonar Kui/Bar Kotha: The population in this area is 700, made up of people from Valmiki, Devi Poojak, and Vankar communities. There are dry latrines and vada toilets in this area; they are full of human waste, resulting in an intolerable odour faced by people in this area. The vaada toilets and dry toilets of this area and other areas are being cleaned by Ishwarbhai Somabhai Purabiya.

(i)Sonar kui / Vaghri Vas: The population in this area is 300, made up of people from Devi Poojak and Thakor communities. Because of human waste from dry latrines and uncollected garbage, the health of local people is at risk. Primary and basic facilities like clean water, proper drainage, C.C, road are not provided in this area by the Nagarpalika.

The memorandum insists, “The resolutions relating to Scheduled castes special component plan and urban development and urban housing construction development, Gandhinagar have not been implemented in the above mentioned areas by Dholka municipality.  As a result, the residential area of the city in which people from Scheduled Castes live have not received clean public toilets and toilets for women, clean concrete roads, clean proper drainage, or clean drinking water. “

In light of the above, the memorandum says, the people of Dholka city are demanding the basic facilities that are their rights. The main demands are:

  • All facilities should be budgeted under a scheme titled Development of Dirty Areas, and under the Scheduled Castes Special Component Plan
  •  Uncollected garbage, human waste, and other dangerous waste must be removed from the city, urgently
  • Manual scavengers are forced to clean and maintain public dry toilets and vaada toilets. This work is prohibited under law. Criminal proceedings should be taken against the chief officer and chairperson of the Dholka Nagarpalika, and they must be dismissed immediately
  • All pay and use toilets should remain open for 24 hours
  • Urinals and toilets with water facilities for women must be constructed in each ward
  • The area in which people from SCs live lacks basic facilities. Hence development work should begin immediately in accordance with the Government’s own scheme entitled under “SC component plan”
  • All public roads in the Dholka city should be made of RCC
  • In accordance with the Nirmal Gujarat scheme, facility for urinals and toilets with underground drainage system must be provided in every home
  • All open drainage in the city should be converted into underground drainage

— Rajiv Shah

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