Proper survey needed to know the exact number : officials

Though Gujarat banned manual scavenging in 1992, the inhuman practice still continues in the State.

Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment Ramanlal Vora has admitted that the practice is still prevalent and that various agencies are still trying to determine the exact number of people engaged in it.

At a workshop on manual sanity workers in Gandhinagar, Principal Secretary of Social Justice and Empowerment Sanjay Prasad and his counterpart in the Urban Development G.R. Aloria virtually conceded that the government did not have any exact data. Both the officials insisted that a proper survey needed to be done.

Going by Census 2011 data, which organisations working for the Dalits in Gujarat as well as elsewhere in the country have challenged, there are 2,566 households in the State where night soil is removed by hand and in 4,800 by animals like pigs and stray dogs.

“The entire methodology followed is flawed. For, the numbers do not reveal just exactly how many people are involved in this work,” pointed out Martin Mcwan of Navsarjan Trust which has been working on this issue since 1997. He said that when the Trust was started in 1997, there were 32,000 people engaged in manual scavenging. “By the government’s own admission at a function in May 2007, there are 64,000 of them now,” Mr. Mcwan added.

The story is no different across the country, which has officially, over 1.15 lakh people occupied in this work. According to Bezwada Wilson, convenor of the Planning Commission’s sub-group on ‘safai karmacharis’ (sweepers), this figure is fictitious for no proper national survey has been done so far.

A survey conducted by Wilson’s organisation, Safai Karmachari Andolan (SKA), across nine States revealed that there are at least 13 lakh manual scavengers in the country. But he said the number would be much more.

It was the SKA’s petition in the Supreme Court in 2003 which forced the State governments to start some action in 2007.

Way back in 1993, the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act was enacted providing for imprisonment up to one year and a fine of Rs. 2,000 or both for offenders.

Mr. Mcwan and Mr. Wilson told The Hindu that actual rehabilitation is yet to take place. Officially, some 11,653 people had been resettled, but, Mr. Mcwan said: “No rehabilitation in the true sense has been done. Loans had been extended to construct homes; so this is some kind of a usual government scheme and not rehabilitation.”