Despite all the claims of the governments, the conditions of sewer cleaning workers are not improving in the country.

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The Supreme Court has taken a serious stance on the incidents of death during sewer cleaning in the country. Recently, the Supreme Court has directed the Central and all the state governments that the government officials will have to pay a compensation of Rs 30 lakh to the families of those who died. Justice S. A bench of Justices Ravindra Bhat and Arvind Kumar said Rs 20 lakh would be paid as minimum compensation to those who suffer permanent disability while cleaning sewers. The bench said that the Central and State Governments should ensure that the practice of manual scavenging is completely eliminated.

While delivering the judgement, Justice Bhat said that if the sweeper suffers from other disabilities, the authorities will have to pay him up to Rs 10 lakh. During this period, the Supreme Court also issued many instructions. The bench directed that government agencies should coordinate to ensure that such incidents do not occur and further that high courts should not be prevented from monitoring cases related to sewer deaths. This decision of the court has come on a public interest litigation.

Despite the ban, even today dirty drains and septic tanks in India are cleaned by humans. Government data shows that 347 people died during such cleanup in the last five years. In response to a question asked to the Ministry of Social Justice in the Lok Sabha, the Ministry has admitted that the practice of getting humans to clean dirty drains and septic tanks is still going on in India and hundreds of people are losing their lives in it. The ministry said that 92 sanitation workers have lost their lives in 2017, 67 in 2018, 116 in 2019, 19 in 2020, 36 in 2021 and 17 in 2022 while doing this dangerous work.

The ministry has data for 18 states of the country. According to these figures, the maximum number of 51 people died in Uttar Pradesh during such cleaning in these five years. After that, 48 people have died in Tamil Nadu, 44 people in National Capital Region Delhi, 38 people in Haryana, 34 people in Maharashtra and 28 people in Gujarat. But people say that the number of deaths in sewers is many times higher than the government figures.

People demanding to stop this practice say that it is unfortunate that even today in the country, dirty drains and septic tanks are cleaned by humans. There are reports of tragic deaths of workers in accidents during sewer cleaning. Even today, in most places, workers clean sewers without masks, gloves and safety equipment. With the death of sewer cleaners, the families dependent on them also become destitute. The family’s source of income suddenly stops. Many people die every year due to suffocation while repairing clogged sewers in the country. This shows how cheap the lives of people like us who clean our filth are. People engaged in sewer cleaning also have to face social neglect.

More than 200 people have died while cleaning sewers in the country in the last one year. Most of the people who die in this inhuman tragedy are unorganized daily wage labourers. For this reason, no protest is registered anywhere on his death. There are approximately 27 lakh sanitation workers employed in the country. Out of which 20 lakh work on contract. The average earning of a sweeper is Rs 7 to 10 thousand per month. More than half of the sanitation workers suffer from many diseases due to working in filth. Due to this, most of the people who clean gutters die at an early age. There is no insurance facility for the people who clean gutters.

Generally, sanitation workers drink alcohol before entering the sewer. After drinking alcohol, there is lack of oxygen in the body. Then as soon as they enter the sewer, they start suffocating. After doing the cleaning work, it is also the responsibility of the executive agency to provide them soap for bathing, bathing and clean drinking water. Despite this, they are still not getting these equipment and facilities.

Earlier also, the Supreme Court had expressed concern and made strong comments on deaths occurring in sewers. The Supreme Court had said that even today discrimination is done on the basis of caste in the country. This kind of treatment by man to man is the most inhuman conduct. There should be a change in these circumstances. In no country in the world are people sent to die in such gas chambers. The court had said that there is a provision in the Constitution that all human beings are equal. But they are not provided equal facilities.

According to the instructions of the court, the sewer cleaning agency should have maps of the sewer line and data related to its depth. The rules of regular health check-up and regular training of people engaged in sewer cleaning work do not seem to be followed anywhere. It is written in all government guidelines that it is necessary to provide sewer cleaners with gas tester, blower to throw out the dirty air, torch, gloves, glasses and ear covering cap and helmet. The National Human Rights Commission has also issued strict orders in this regard. Despite this, these equipment and facilities are missing. The length of sewer lines is increasing every day. At the same time, the number of cleaners is being reduced.

The practice of manual scavenging was banned in India in 2013 under the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act. But in this law, cleaning of dirty drains and septic tanks by humans is allowed with certain conditions. Use of adequate safety equipment is mandatory for cleaning under these conditions. But often the rules are not followed.

In a historic verdict in the case of death of three laborers during the excavation of sewerage in Fatehpur in Sikar district of Rajasthan, the Additional District Judge has given a historic verdict and sentenced three people including the company engineer to ten years of imprisonment, holding them guilty of culpable homicide. Was sentenced. The court accepted that it was the responsibility of the company to arrange security for the workers. That day sewerage work was being done by the company. There, three laborers lost their lives due to lack of alternative safety measures.

The work of cleaning sewers by hand is being done even after it is banned in the country. The Supreme Court of the country has taken notice of the people who clean the sewers and has strongly pulled up the Central and State Governments. But how much impact do the court’s instructions have on governments? This will be known only in the coming time. However, even today the trend of deaths of sanitation workers in sewers continues.

-Ramesh Saraf Dhamora

(The author is an independent journalist recognized by the Government of Rajasthan. His articles are published in many newspapers of the country.)

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