By Jitendra Rathod*
Manual scavenging is inhumane practice of manually removing/ handling/ cleaning human excreta and cleaning drainage without providing any safety measures to sweepers. To eradicate this inhumane practice, Parliament has enacted the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 and the Act came into force on 6th December, 2013 across in India.
Meanwhile, the honorable Supreme Court of India has given landmark judgment on 27th March 2014 in this regard. The court has directed the all state governments that:
- Identify the families of all persons who have died in sewerage work (manholes, septic tanks) since 1993 and award compensation of Rs. 10 lakhs for each such death to the family members depending on them.
- Sewerage deaths- entering sewer line without safety gears should be made a crime even in emergency situations. For such death, compensation of Rs. 10 lakhs should be given to the family of the deceased.
- All the state governments and union territories to fully implement the same and take appropriate action for non-implementation as well as violation of the provisions contained in the 2013 Act.
Despite the Act prohibiting practice of manual scavenging and judgment of Supreme Court, practice of manual scavenging is rampant in Gujarat and especially in cities. There are around 200 spots where sweepers are forced to clean human excreta every day in Ahmedabad city.
As per data of Manav Garima (community organization of Valmikis based at Ahmedabad), 152 manhole workers died while cleaning drainage without any safety devices in Gujarat state since 1993.
Manav Garima has submitted list of 152 deceased manhole workers for compensation as per judgment of Supreme Court to various concerned departments of Gujarat State; Director of Municipality (dt. 20/05/2014), Managing Director of Gujarat Safai Kamdar Vikas Nigam (dt. 20/05/2014), Principal Secretary of Social Justice and Empowerment Department (dt. 19/05, 2014), Chief Secretary of Gujarat (dt. 19/05/2014), Director of Scheduled Castes Welfare (dt. 19/05/2014). Manav Garima also wrote to Chief Minister (dt. 04/2015) and Chief Secretary of Gujarat (dt. 30/6/2015) for compensation.
Yet, identification and compensation is not provided in deaths of manhole workers by Gujarat. Manav Garima has also sought information under RTI Act (dt. 21/12/2015) from Chief Secretary of Gujarat about actions taken for awarding compensation and implementing mechanisms for provisions of the Act of 2013.
The responses under RTI Act are very disturbing as there is no clear roles and responsibility of any department of the Gujarat state. Departments like Director of Municipality, Managing Director of Gujarat Safai Kamdar Vikas Nigam, Principal Secretary of Social Justice and Empowerment Department, Chief Secretary of Gujarat, Director of Scheduled Castes Welfare are forwarding letters to each other mentioning that implementation of the Act and awarding compensation on deaths of manhole workers does not come under their departments but it comes under other departments.
It is very much crucial that activists, NGOs, academicians should demand at various levels- taluka, district and state for following immediate actions:
- Gujarat government identifies and award compensation of Rs 10 lakh in incidents of deaths of manhole workers since 1993 as per judgment of honorable Supreme Court.
- Set up mechanism of various provisions of the Act of 2013 at state, district and taluka level for effective implementation of the Act.
- Ensuring that provisions of the Act are effectively implementing in Gujarat state.
*Senior activist, Janvikas