R. Ilangovan

‘Manual scavenging is barbaric and goes against the conscience of civic society’

‘Nearly 4,000 workers have perished while cleaning manholes in the State in the last 20 years’

SALEM: The contract sanitary workers in local bodies, a majority of them Arunthathiyars, have urged the State Government to immediately ‘mechanise’ the underground drainage cleaning work.

They say that whenever underground drainage gets chocked, they will be lowered down into manholes with a rope tied to their waist.

Many have lost their lives, inhaling poisonous gases.

K.R. Ganesan, general secretary of the Tamil Nadu Rural Development and Local Administration Employees Sammelan, affiliated to the CITU, told The Hindu that manual scavenging “is barbaric and goes against the conscience of civic society”.

Welcoming the High Court’s directive banning the entry of any human into manholes for cleaning, he said that between December 27, 2006, and September 27, 2007, six scavengers, engaged in cleaning manholes, had died of asphyxiation in Chennai alone.

Such deaths were reported from Coimbatore and Madurai too. As per a rough estimate, nearly 4,000 workers had perished while cleaning manholes and septic tanks in the State in the past two decades, he said.

“Sadly neither have their families received any compensation nor have the police registered any case.”

The Arunthathiyar leaders say that private operators in charge of scavenging in many local bodies tap the untrained Dalit men, mostly from Arunthathiyar colonies. Pittance and pints of alcohol are offered in wages, they say.

“But whenever a fatality occurred, neither the contractor nor the local body would come forward to owe up responsibility,” said Mr. Ganesan, also a member of the Sanitary Workers Welfare Board.

The Arunthathiyar leaders fear the casualty may spike since many municipalities and town panchayats have started underground drainage projects.

The State Government should integrate the abolition of manual scavenging along with the project reports too, they insisted.

The Rural Development and Local Administration Employees Sammelan, which met here recently, announced that it would launch an agitation from November 10 to protest against the privatisation of sanitary works and to demand higher wages and mechanisation of scavenging.

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