Authorities’ subdued response to demand to end manual scavenging in Dudhrej, a small town in Surendranagar district, Gujarat

Evidence of manual scavenging in Dudhrej
Evidence of manual scavenging in Dudhrej

By Natubhai Parmar*

Dudhrej municipality in Surendranagar district of Gujarat is in news for quite some time following strong protests by contract workers against the despicable practice of manual scavenging. Organized under the Safai Kamdar Hakk Rakshak Samiti, which is supported by Navsarjan Trust, Ahmedabad, on August 14, 2014 they took out a rally in Surendraganar against the way the municipal authorities treat them while on work, and are forced to manually clean up human excreta despite the law banning it. Following the rally, the Samiti submitted a list of demands to the district collector, which included end to the contract system and implementation of the law that prohibits manual scavenging. The Samiti received a reply from the chief officer, municipality, to the memorandum. Following is the Samiti’s reaction to the municipal authorities’ reply:

  • Our demand: Action should be taken against those responsible for corruption being carried out in the municipality. Those workers who raise their voice are being harassed and sacked from job. All those who have been removed should be reinstated.

Your reply: The municipality seeks workers from an agency appointed for providing workers in accordance with our needs. Hence, to say that workers are being fired by the municipality is not true.

Our reaction: We do not agree, because we had demanded for justice for the work that we do. We find that only those workers who belong to the Valmiki caste are fired, as for others they are not sacked.

  • Our demand: The wages of those on contract should be directly deposited in respective accounts of nationalized banks.

Your reply: The municipality has outsourced its work to an agency, which is chosen on the basis of the terms and conditions mentioned in the tender, so we have no say in this.

Our reaction: We do not agree, as the agency is merely responsible for supplying workers, but who will look into the fact that they are being exploited? It is your responsibility to ensure that the workers are paid minimum wages, that whatever is deducted from wages is properly deposited in provident fund, and that there is no misappropriation. After all, we are being paid from government funds, which is tax payers’ money. You must ensure that the agency employed does not exploit us.

  • Our demand: Action should taken against sanitary inspectors, who misbehave with the women workers, using abusive language. They threaten women workers that  they would be removed from job if they complained.

Your reply: We have not received any such complaint. If we do, we will act.

Our reaction: We do not agree, as we had complained against sanitary inspector RK Zala, who on December 17, 2012, tried to molest Sarojben Tarunbhai. We lodged a complaint at the city police station, Surendranagar under IPC sections 354, 506 (2), and 114, and the case (No 208/2013) is on in the Surendranagar court. We would like to know if departmental inquiry against him has been instituted.

  • Our demand: There is a Supreme Court order (SC 378 JT 1977 – 7) which makes it mandatory to form committees  to oversee stoppage of sexual harassment of women at workplaces. Such committees should be formed in municipality departments immediately in accordance with what have come to be known as Vishakha guidelines.

Your reply: Such a committee will be set up.

Our reaction: We would like to know when, and who will be its members.

  • Our demand: All safai kamdars should be provided work permits and pay slips.

Your reply: The municipality outsources the job, and necessary documents are provided by the agency appointed for the purpose. We have instructed the agency to do this.

Our reaction: We do not know when you gave the instruction. You are requested to provide us with the written order, or was it an oral instruction?

  • Our demand: The Navalgadh Majur Sahkari Mandali’s contractor deducted provident fund from wages in 2012 and 2013. We have not received any spit suggesting that the amount was deposited in the fund. It is a clear case of misappropriation. A case should be registered against the contractor.

Your reply: Provident fund is being deducted by the agency appointed by the municipality for hiring workers. The agency deposits the amount in the provident fund account of respective workers. If there is any specific complaint, we will act.

Our reaction: We had on December 23, 2013 complained that the amount deducted from our salary is not being deposited in provident fund account. Besides, workers are not being paid wages in accordance with the minimum wages Act. We complained about this to the district collector on July 2, 1014. Earlier, a similar complaint was lodged before the chief officer on June 6, 2014. Despite the complaints, nothing has happened. The workers are not getting minimum wages, they have not been handed over the slip as proof that money is being deposited in the provident fund account.

  • Our demand: Safai kamdars bring along with them all the necessary equipment for cleaning up dirt, and they bear the expenditure for it. They are not being provided with even the broom or the container, not to talk of safety equipment to enter into the gutter. They have not been insured against any accident either. This should be regularized.

Your reply: The municipality outsources the job, and it appoints workers in according to our needs. We have given the instruction to the agency to provide minimum wages.

Our reaction: It is shocking that the reply does not even refer to the demand for providing insurance against accident. After all, safai kamdars are made to enter into the gutters without any safety equipment. They are not even given simple things like the broom and the container.

  • Our demand: The Gujarat government had come up with a resolution on December 16, 1985 that those who complete 10 years should be appointed as peons. This is not being implemented.

Your reply: We are not government, but local a self-governing body. Under the Constitution, the municipality is given the task of welfare of the people. We will implement all resolutions as and when necessary.

Our reaction: Verbal instructions are given while sacking workers, yet you do not implement the government resolution to regularize workers.

  • Our demand: On September 5, 1998, the government came up with a resolution which said that those who do the cleaning job should not be addressed as bhangi in government records, but as Valmikis. This has not been implemented.

Your reply: The resolution has long been implemented. We will further instruct officials to ensure that the word bhangi is not used, and instead Valmiki is used.

Our reaction: You say the government resolution is being implemented, but there is no proof of this. A copy of the order to not to use bhangi should be provided.

  • Our demand: A government resolution dated January 12, 1999 says that Harijan word should not be used for scheduled caste.  A specific order should be issued to ensure that the scheduled castes are addressed as Hindu Vankar, Hindu Rohit, Hindu Shenva or Hindu Valmiki, as the case may be.

Your reply: The resolution has been implemented, and necessary order will be issued.

Our response: It is not clear when will this resolution will be implemented.

  • Our demand: Even today people defecate in the open, and the Valmikis are forced to clean the excreta manually. This is violation of the Employment of Manual Scavenging and Construction of Dry Latrines Prohibition) Act, 1993.  This is shameful. Action should be taken against officials who force safai kamdars to do this.

Your reply: There is a ban on constructing dry latrines since 1994. New toilets are built under the Nirmal Gujarat scheme.

Our reaction: We have got concrete proof showing that dry latrines exist even today, and safai kamdars are forced to clean up human excreta manually. The toilets are devoid of water, there is no electricity in there, and the toilet buildings are falling apart at several places. Nothing is being done to rectify the situation, and the law is being implemented only on paper.

  • Protest rally against manual scavenging on August 14
    Protest rally against manual scavenging on August 14

    Our demand: The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, was implemented throughout India starting with December 6, 2013.Tthere should be propaganda on TV, newspapers and public places, including buses, through advertisements,  to make people aware of the whole thing.

Your reply: We will propagate about this at public places.

Our response: Huge advertisements are put up everywhere about stopping domestic violence, using the right to information Act and other laws promulgated by the government from time to time. However, there is no awareness campaign the law banning manual scavenging.

  • Our demand: A government resolution dated October 28, 2005, following a 2003 writ petition in the Supreme Court, said that there would be no manual cleaning of human excreta. We demanded that this should be strictly implemented.

Your reply: The municipality uses necessary machinery, including water tankers, to clean up excreta, so that there is no direct human contact.

Our response: A complete detail of which tankers and which machinery is being used to clean up human excreta should be provided. There must be a log book with the authorities of the last five years about this, which should also be made public.

  • Our demand: Contract workers should be regularized, and the agency which employs them should work in accordance with the existing laws.

Your reply: Those employed are taken as regular workers as and when there are vacancies in accordance with the law. Till then, they are employed through the agency.

Our response: The minimum wages law is not being implemented. There appears to be corruption in the payment of wages to workers. This should immediately stop. Besides, officials of the municipality are known not to work in accordance with the existing rules.

* Activist, Navsarjan Trust, Surendrangar

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