NEW DELHI: Nine manual scavengers died here last month, but according to government data, only 10 such labourers died here in the last four years. According to statistics compiled by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, 70 people died due to manual scavenging across the country since 2013. Human rights activists say the actual number of deaths due of manual scavengers is much higher.
Out of the 126 sewer deaths in the country this year, 14 were in Delhi alone. This week, the social justice ministry told the Rajya Sabha that till July 31, there were 13,368 manual scavengers in the country across 13 states. It said 22 states have not identified even a single manual scavenger. The ministry also claimed to have initiated rehabilitation of 93 per cent of scavengers by giving a one-time cash assistance to 12,488 of them. Bezwada Wilson, winner of 2016 Magsaysay award for his efforts to fight manual scavenging and the national convener of Safai Karmachari Andolan, said government figures are unreal and lakhs of people are yet to be compensated for rehabilitation.
Manual scavenging is the practice of cleaning, carrying, disposing or handling human excreta from dry latrines and sewers. The practice was banned in 1993, but it is still prevalent and continues to claim lives.
According to the Socio Economic and Caste Census 2011, 182,505 households in rural India with at least one member doing manual scavenging. Wilson says a study carried out by his organisation revealed that there are 1.6 lakh manual scavengers in India. “The government’s figures are much lower because of its apathy towards manual scavengers, as 99 per cent of them are Dalits, whom the government does not consider as its vote-base,” he said.