Manual Scavenging

  • 17 Mar, 2017 12:19 PM  
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Manual Scavenging, it is no new word. Particularly when it comes to India. Thanks to the care taken by our country that even with a ban it’s a common word. It is like; it has decreased to an extent in the old form and took its new form. Officially defining “manual scavenger” means a person engaged or employed for manually cleaning, carrying, disposing of, or otherwise handling in any manner, human excreta in an insanitary latrine or in an open drain or pit into which the human excreta from the insanitary latrines is disposed. It is quite a big description and well defined. To give it a more simple and realistic definition it is removing the human excreta using brooms and tin plates into a basket and keep it on the head to dispose it far off which is sometimes a kilometres away. This was the case when cleaning the dry latrines.

The practice was first banned in 1993 Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, but the law then focused more on sanitation. The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, made it clear that no person or agency can engage someone to clean sewers or septic tanks.

If keeping the basket of human excreta on head makes it a very unhygienic and unacceptable work then we have moved on to the next level it. Claiming that dry latrines have considerably reduced it took another form. Yes, an improved version of it. Now people are forced to dive and clear the blocks of manholes which are 20 meters deep. Is this an improvement we have gone through? “I can’t hold my kid after returning from work. The body odour is too much for a child. I have to play with him and cuddle with him in the mornings only” these are the words spoken by a present day manual scavenger. We close our nose and scold our municipalities for the inconvenience created by piling up the garbage. Imagine people completely dipping and diving into the filled manhole which stinks many more times the garbage.

This is the situation of these people. There are no safety measures given to them. Neither safety masks nor sanitizers. Forget safety gear like gloves gum boots and facemasks workers like them are not even provided soap. We have seen in the recent times and past, deaths of manual scavengers. The sewers contain so many poisonous and inflammable gases which costs their lives. They die due to suffocation.

Their need for money and work has driven then to take up such a life risking jobs. When coming to dry latrines it is only claimed that the dry latrines are reduced to a great extent. How can this be when the great department of ours which is the most employment providing sector our railways still have latrines which are open on to the tracks? These are cleaned only by labourers which is nothing but manual scavenging. This has to stop. Privatizing the cleaning and maintenance of sewer can be good governance but when they exceed their limits in exposing them to hazardous work environment is not tolerable. Strict action must be taken on such agencies and rehabilitation of these workers must not be a mere ink on paper. Making efforts to see that they don’t face the situation is much better than giving exgratia after their death.

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