Despite the ban on manual scavenging, the practice continues as evident outside Periyar Thidal on EVK Sampath Salai in Vepery on Thursday.
Four men entered the manholes to extricate silt and other solid waste dislodged in it, with their wives waiting near to take it away.
A supervisor, who identified himself as having been engaged by a contractor, Bharath, claimed that it was a rainwater drain and not a sewerage pipe that was being cleaned. But the silt was emitting a foul, overpowering stench. The quartet said they regularly performed the task.
Meanwhile, a senior official of Chennai Corporation, who preferred not to be identified, said that while manual scavenging was a violation of law, people were deployed whenever there was lack of vehicles to clean rain or storm water drains.
He added that the Corporation was in the process of acquiring machines for the exclusive purpose of cleaning rain or storm water drains. Another official said the ‘dirty’ work of both the Corporation and Chennai Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board was carried out by floating tenders. “Manual scavengers are usually deployed to clean sewerage pipes and drains in the bylanes. Machines can be used, with slightly not-so better results, but the expense involved is greater. The standing rate for such labourers ranges anywhere between Rs 400 and 650.”
Change of mindset
“Numerous legislations may be in place to deal with the social evil of manual scavenging, but only a change in our mindset, coupled with awareness, can remove it,” says noted social activist Anbuvendhan R, who has been fighting the cause of its eradication.
He pointed out that over 38 persons had died due to asphyxiation while cleaning manholes and drainages in the last one year in Tamil Nadu.
“Contractors, in a bid to cut corners, deploy human labour for such demeaning activities. Their deaths are largely forgotten and compensation from the government rarely reaches them, what with their employers making themselves scarce during such an eventuality,” he says.