‘Worker was made to manually clear manhole’

Manual scavenging appears to persist in Bangalore despite repeated assurance by the government that it will be done away with and the process would be fully mechanised. A recent incident in J.P. Nagar V Phase stands as a testimony.

The Dalit Bahujan Movement (DBM), a non-governmental organisation, has lodged a complaint with the Jayaprakashnagar police station that a worker was made to get into a manhole by Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) to clear the clogged manhole at the intersection of Puttenahalli Main Road and 18th Main Road earlier this month.

A case was booked under Section 336 of the Indian Penal Code (Act endangering life or personal safety of others) and under The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013.

Curiously, when the police are yet to start investigation, the Karnataka State Safai Karamchari Commission has done a spot inspection and given a report to BWSSB that there had been no manual scavenging and a worker only helped remove obstacles to attach the hose pipe of the jetting machine.

M. Venkatesh, State president of DBM, is perplexed by this. “It is strange that we, as complainants, were not even approached by the commission before giving BWSSB a clean chit,” he said, adding that the worker was standing knee-deep in the slush inside the manhole and had no protective gear. “I have submitted photographic and video evidence,” he said, adding that a sucking-and-jetting machine was parked closeby but was not used. Responding to this, K.R. Mohan, secretary of the commission, said: “We did not find any witnesses when we visited the spot. But we can re-investigate the case.”

The Dalit Bahujan Movement has also submitted petitions to the Governor, Chief Minister, Social Welfare Minister and the Karnataka State Human Rights Commission demanding action. The organisation had brought to light a similar incident last year on Mysore Road and The Hindu had reported it. (“Machines to clean sewage lines can’t come sooner”, November 13, 2013). In its petition, DBM has recalled similar incidents reported from Mulbagal in Kolar, Kolar Gold Fields, Mandya, Anekal and Mysore. On March 2 this year, Kumar (29) was killed when the clogged manhole he was cleaning got flooded in Mysore.

Speaking to The Hindu, M. Shivanna, chairperson of the National Safai Karamchari Commission, said that the law against manual scavenging was stringent and anyone failing to implement safety measures (including deploying mechanical apparatus), were liable to be prosecuted.

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