Bhopal: With scavenged human excreta in hands, local activists of Madhya Pradesh’s Shivpuri district protested against manual scavenging inside the Public Health Engineering Department’s (PHED’s) district office. The protest was organised on the occasion of the 70th Constitution Day, demanding equal rights for sanitation workers and immediate ban on manual scavenging.
Later, in a letter to the Shivpuri collector Anugraha P, they demanded immediate stop on the practice of manual scavenging and hazardous sewer cleaning in the Shivpuri Municipal Area. They also demanded that FIRs be lodged against the defaulting officers under the under Section 2(j) of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.
The activists claimed that in Shivpuri district, which witnessed the highest number of sewer deaths in the state in 2017-18, hundreds of sanitation workers are still engaged in the practice of manual scavenging.
According to the National Commission for Safai Karamcharis (NCSK) report 2017-18, in Madhya Pradesh, out of the six sewer deaths, four took place in Shivpuri alone. Even in 2016 and 2014, four cleaners (two each year) died due to asphyxia inside the sewer.
The cleaning and maintenance of the old sewer network in Shivpuri is managed by PHED. As per an RTI reply by PHE department, from the year 2013 till date, no safety devices or equipment have been provided to the employees engaged in the cleaning of sewers.
Nevertheless, there are 700 sanitation workers under the Shivpuri Municipal Corporation, out of which 25-30% are engaged in scavenging human excreta as most of the government buildings, including quarters of government officials and old houses, are constructed in the old style, wherein the human waste directly goes to the drains.
The activists have also demanded the district collector’s office to conduct a survey for identifying manual scavengers and provide safety equipment and protective gear as listed under the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Act 2013. There was also a demand to conduct a survey of all old style latrines in Shivpuri Municipal area within a fortnight.
An activist, Geeti Mohapatra said, “This issue came to the fore when we encountered some safai karamcharis (sanitation workers) cleaning the drain behind the Babu (government officials) quarters. These safai karamcharis were engaged in removing human excreta which flowed from homes and into the open drains by the side of the road. They were not provided with any safety equipment whatsoever and were only provided with a shovel for cleaning.”
This is just one instance of this inhuman practice coming to light, she said, adding that, “On conducting a preliminary fact finding, we have found that the practice is still carried out in various parts of Shivpuri, such as behind Vidyadevi Hospital, near Jal Mandir and Kamalaganj, near the government officials’ quarters.”
Another activist, Abhay Jain said, “When we raised the matter before the concerned officials about why this prohibited manual scavenging is still being practised, they replied that they have provided all the equipment to carry out the task. It is shocking but they don’t even know the difference between manual scavenging and sewer cleaning.” However, any such claims by the officials of providing protective gear are refuted by the RTI reply, he pointed out.
On September 19, 2019, activists had lodged a complaint with the State Human Rights Commission during their visit to Shivpuri. Acting on the complaint, the collector was given 15 days to report on the issue of manual scavenging and cleaning of hazardous sewers. “Even after almost two months, no report whatsoever has been given by the collector while the practice of manual scavenging continues to create a mockery of the Constitution of India,” said Jitendra Majhi, an activist.
“If such inhuman practice doesn’t stop and the collector doesn’t present the report within the next two weeks, then we will bring 50 samples of human waste to the collector’s janta darbar,” he said.
When contacted, collector Anugraha P said, “The workers are not cleaning drains with bare hands but using equipment. In any case, they are not removing excreta but cleaning drains. There needs to be a behavioural change to end this practice, which may take time. We will spread awareness about it.”
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