BENGALURU: Tuesday afternoon’s tragic death of two young contractual sweepers due to asphyxiation when they were forced enter a manhole to clean the clogged drains of a hotel in Doddenakundi, is a serious pointer to how the administration as well as the general citizenry -even the educated ones -are neglecting this menace.
This is nothing short of gross indifference to repeated reminders through such gruesome deaths, and why this menace needs to be stopped for good.
The previous reminder came in the form of three similar deaths a little over a month ago on January 7 when Narayana Swamy (35), Mahadeva Gowda (42) and Srinivas (52) died after they entered a manhole inside the premises of ND Sepal Apartments at Somasundara Palya in HSR Layout.
According to All India Central Council of Trade Unions, at least 75 workers have died while performing manual scavenging in 34 such incidents between 2008 and 2018 in Karnataka.
However, these figures are lost on people forcing workers to get into manholes and clean drains and underground pipes for cheap labour -to achieve the maximum (cleaned pipes/drains for their own convenience) at the least price.
They do this despite sophisticated equipment being available through private companies who have expertise in cleaning drains. Unfortunately, for those looking to save costs, these machines are the last option as it cheaper to get a few men into manholes, even at the risk of them losing their lives.
According to senior BWSSB officials in charge of sewage treatment plant works, there are at least 30 firms in Bengaluru which specialise in the maintenance of drains and cleaning sewage treatment plants. Besides, there are also jetting machines with the BWSSB which can be used to unclog drains of kitchen and toilet waste.
“They (the firms) can also take care of regular maintenance. But if cheap and untrained labour is hired to cut costs, then one can expect deaths like these,” rued the official.
According to Pushpalatha, member, State Manual Scavenging Monitoring committee, most of the deaths are registered under IPC Section 304 A, which indirectly blame the scavenger himself. These cases should be booked under Under Section 304 Part II of IPC.
Demands of Various Organisations
1) Appropriate budget allocation by both the Centre and state governments to rehabilitate all those engaged in manual scavenging.
2) Register cases under 304 II, IPC against BWSSB, KUWS&DB engineers, apartment management, manhole cleaning contractors and others who force workers to perform manual scavenging. Arrest them forthwith.
3) Pay compensation of Rs 50 lakh to the family of the deceased and provide decent, dignified jobs to them. Do not treat the family as the replacement for the deceased people who were performing manual scavenging.
4) Constitute a committee consisting of BWSSB/UDD/DMA and trade unions working with the manual scavengers to formulate rules, regulations, guidelines to end the practice of manual scavenging.
5) Ensure toilets built under Swacch Bharath do not cause more manual scavenging.
6) Ensure that none of the BWSSB STPs are cleaned through manual scavenging.
APEX COURT JUDGMENT IGNORED
In March 2014, the Supreme Court gave a judgment directing all states to abolish manual scavenging and to take steps for rehabilitation of such workers. Disposing of a writ petition filed by the Safai Karmachari Andolan and others, the three-judge bench had observed that manual scavengers are considered as untouchables by other castes. The bench had said, “For sewer deaths, entering sewer lines without safety gear should be made a crime even in emergency situations.”