BENGALURU: At least 60 people died while cleaning manholes, dry latrines and sewage pits across Karnataka since 2008, reveals statistics from Karnataka State Commission for Safai Karmacharis. The number of deaths of sanitation workers reported in Karnataka has increased from 7 in 2008 to 11 in 2015. In 2016, a total of 10 manual scavengers died across the state.
Activists say manual scavenging continues in the state despite a ban mainly because of increasing operational costs and shortage of equipment.
“More than 95% of these victims are from Dalit communities. Congress party’s assembly election manifesto also promised to end manual scavenging but nothing has been done so far,” says Prof Y J Rajendra, general secretary, Karnataka chapter of People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL).
According to Socio Economic and Caste Census 2011, 90% of the 16,362 manual scavengers in south India are from Karnataka. As many as 15,375 manual scavengers are in Karnataka followed by Andhra Pradesh (388),Tamil Nadu (334), Telangana (165) and Kerala (100). However, Karnataka government has so far identified only 776 manual scavengers. Chairman of the Karnataka State Commission for Safai Karmacharis M R Venkatesh told Express that they have identified 302 manual scavengers in urban areas and another 474 in rural areas.
“Census survey of manual scavengers was unscientific and inaccurate. So we have decided to conduct a resurvey of the number of manual scavengers in the state.”
Rajendra said that government is under-reporting the number of manual scavengers and deaths.
“Most of the eligible workers are not getting benefits as the government is reluctant to include them in the list”. Between 2012 and 2015, only 214 manual scavengers in the state received one-time cash assistance of Rs 40,000 each.
According to Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition Act) 1993, manual scavenging is banned in the country. The law was extended in 2003 to cover people working in sewer lines and septic tanks. Further, Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, states that no person, local authority or any agency shall engage or employ, either directly or indirectly, any person for hazardous cleaning of a sewer or a septic tank.
When contacted, a Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) official said: “Manual scavenging is continuing because of the shortage of machines. In some cases, jet rodding and de-silting machines are unable to clear blocks so contract labourers get inside the manholes to clean drains.”
Chennai-based activist and Change India director A Narayanan, who is fighting for manual scavengers, says state governments should identify the families of all manual scavengers who have died since 1993 and award a compensation of Rs 10 lakh to each family. “It’s a non-bailable offence to compel workers to do manual scavenging. Action should be taken against guilty officials and contractors for forcing people to enter inside manholes.”