BHUBANESWAR: Making India free of manual scavenging by 2019 was one promise PM Narendra Modi made while rolling out the Swachh Bharat mission on October 2, 2014. But for scavengers like Mitu Naik of Kharavela Nagar in Bhubaneswar, the promise means little, as toilet cleaning is the only work he does to run his ninemember family, and no step has been taken by the State Government to provide him an alternative source of income, nor has he been rehabilitated. A native of Khandapada in Nayagarh district, Naik has been in the profession for the last 22 years.
At one point, he wanted to quit, and approached the administration for help, but got no assistance. “Though some villagers have been engaged by government agencies like municipal corporation and public health engineering organisation, many are not lucky. We face lots of discrimination from society, and the people who employ us,” he rued. In Odisha, there are many households dependent on manual scavengers to get their septic tanks and drains cleaned, but the number of scavengers is unclear. There are people involved in sweeping night soil on the street, followed by cleaning of water-borne toilets and removal of bodies and dead animals.
While as per the 2011 census Odisha had 886 manual scavengers, according to the Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, the State had 464 manual scavengers till December 2015. Activists fighting for dalits, however, contradict the figure. Chairperson of Odisha Dalit Adhikar Manch (ODAM), Manas Jena, claimed scavengers are residing in all 30 districts, and are present in 103 urban local bodies, including three municipal corporations, 37 municipalities and 63 notified area councils (NAC). “All municipalities have scavengers, but privatisation of sanitary work has reduced their status from employees to casual workers by depriving them of Government benefits.
Their socio-economic condition in Balasore, Cuttack, Kendrapada, Puri, Ganjam, Sambalpur and in towns is pethetic,” he said. As per ‘Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013’, they are entitled to several benefits, but scavengers in slums are not being rehabilitated with land, house and livelihood, despite several schemes launched by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation. As per the Act, an identified manual scavenger is entitled to get one-time cash assistance of Rs 40,000, loan for project cost up to Rs 15 lakh on concessional rates of interest, credit linked back-end capital subsidy upto to Rs 3.25 lakh, and skill development training upto two years with stipend of Rs 3,000 per month. Jena said it was unfortunate the State Government, through affidavits in the Supreme Court, has been denying the prevalence of manual scavenging, which contradicts the Census data of 2011. According to an estimate, 22 persons have died of asphyxiation in the past three years, due to working without proper protective gear.