BWSSB to set up helpline to regulate cleaning of pits, septic tanks

A file photo of manual scavenging in Bengaluru in February 2016.   | Photo Credit: SREENIVASA MURTHY V

The IT capital’s reliance on manual scavengers is a dirty secret. In an effort to crack down on citizens hiring private service providers to clean pits and septic tanks, the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) is working towards setting up a helpline. The purpose is to register agencies and service providers offering de-sludging and cleaning services, and crack down on those who break the law. This comes a year after the Board decided to make it mandatory for citizens to hire service providers that it had certified.

An internet search on service providers to clean pits and septic tanks throws up hundreds of results, with many of the companies offering ‘mechanical cleaning’. However, activists claim that this cleaning is not bereft of human intervention with agencies hiring cheap labour as well.

The Board’s efforts, however, seem to be hitting a dead end, with next to no response to its call to private service providers. BWSSB made a public announcement, twice, urging private service providers to attend a meeting on certification and fixing a price for various services. Most of the firms are concentrated in outer areas of the city where the sanitary infrastructure is absent.

BWSSB officials admitted that the response has been poor, both times. While just eight service providers attended the first meeting, 12 attended the second.

“We got the list of these private service providers from a private company. However, most of the numbers listed are either out of reach or wrong, and some of the addresses were not traceable,” said a BWSSB official.

K.B. Obalesh, State convenor of the Safai Karmacharis Kaval Samiti, said the effort was part of the Centre’s ‘Safai Mitra Suraksha Challenge’. “Around 240 cities and towns from across the country are participating in the challenge, including Bengaluru and six other cities in Karnataka,” he said.

Pointing out that there were many issues with private agencies offering such services, Mr. Obalesh said that safety precautions were often not taken, resulting in deaths.

“The BWSSB must record the kind of equipment used by these agencies, the capacity of the jetting and sucking machines, safety gear provided to the cleaning personnel, and security provided to them,” he said, and added that many agencies were not responding to the BWSSB’s call only because they feared that they could end up making a loss if the rates are fixed. “After all, faecal matter is now akin to ‘gold’ for these service providers,” he said.

‘Prevalent in at least in 98 wards’

There is no clarity on the number of people engaged in manual scavenging. While activists working for the welfare of manual scavengers peg the number at 25,000, a pilot survey of six districts, including Bengaluru, identified a total of 1,720 manual scavengers.

K.B. Obalesh, State convenor of Safai Karmacharis Kaval Samiti, said manual scavenging was prevalent in at least in 98 wards where the sanitary infrastructure is absent. The BWSSB, he pointed out, had around 150 jetting and sucking machines. “Just around 100 are used by the Board, which is grossly insufficient to cover the city. This is why citizens hire private service providers,” he said.

He claimed that there was no coordination between Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), BWSSB, Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) and Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB). The BBMP was entrusted with the job of surveying and identifying manual scavengers with the objective of rehabilitating them to take up alternate jobs.

In the first survey taken up in May 2013, only 201 manual scavengers were identified. Another survey was taken up in Rajarajeshwarinagar, Mahadevapura, South, West and East zones where 1,138 manual scavengers were identified.

According to S.G. Raveendra, BBMP Special Commissioner (Welfare), the third survey, with focus on outer zones, is almost complete. “The number of manual scavengers are being re-verified for three zones, including Yelahanka and Dasarahalli,” he said.

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Printable version | Apr 19, 2021 5:59:02 PM |

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