One conviction for unsafe sewer cleaning so far, House panel raps government

Government told panel that it is monitoring 616 such cases, but that there is a “lot to do” when it comes to convictions; data shows 1,035 deaths from hazardous sewer cleaning since 1993

March 23, 2023 08:13 pm | Updated 08:28 pm IST - New Delhi

Image used for representative purpose only.

Image used for representative purpose only. | Photo Credit: MAHINSHA S

The Union government has informed a Parliamentary Standing Committee that FIRs have been registered in 616 cases where contractors had not provided safety gear and equipment to sewer workers. Among the cases registered under the Manual Scavenging (Prohibition) Act, one conviction has been secured so far, the government said. 

The Department of Social Justice and Empowerment made these submissions before the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Social Justice and Empowerment, which in a report tabled in both Houses on Thursday, said that the implementation of the MS Act must be done strictly and that errant contractors should be “immediately held and convicted”. 

The government submitted before the House panel that a total of 1,035 people had died in India due to hazardous cleaning of sewers and septic tanks since 1993, and families of 836 victims have been given the full compensation of ₹10 lakh as mandated by the Supreme Court. In addition, families of 112 victims have received a little less than ₹10 lakh as compensation. 

When asked about what action was being taken against contractors who were failing to provide safety gear to workers entering sewers and septic tanks, a representative of the Social Justice Ministry said that the Union government’s responsibility in this regard was to ensure the registration of FIRs. 

The government added that it has successfully got 616 FIRs registered in such cases where provisions of the MS Act have been added. Further, the government said that it is regularly following up on the status of these cases with respective Principal Secretaries and that FIRs being registered in such cases lately have provisions of MS Act in them. 

On convictions, the Social Justice Secretary said, “One conviction has been done so far, so we have to do a lot in this area.” The Ministry official, however, added that the top priorities currently were to ensure compensation is given as an immediate measure and to ensure zero deaths from hazardous sewer cleaning. 

Seeking updates on action taken to ensure convictions in MS Act cases, the House panel, headed by BJP MP Rama Devi, noted in the report, “The Committee feel that these norms with regard to penalty and conviction for engaging sewer and septic workers by the Contractors are strictly implemented so that the Contractors are immediately held and convicted for any violation of norms.”

Deadline for enumeration of sewer workers

Meanwhile, on the recently announced NAMASTE scheme (National Action Plan for Mechanised Sanitation Ecosystem), which proposes to spend ₹350 crore over the next three years, the House panel urged the government to set up a timeline for enumerating sewer and septic-tank workers.

The scheme aims at mechanising septic-tank cleaning and sewer-cleaning operations and providing livelihood support to workers, among others.  

The committee noted that the scheme had been envisioned for a FY 2023-24 start and for this, the completion of the enumeration work is necessary. The government informed the panel that they intend to count the number of such workers in over 4,800 Urban Local Body areas and profile them before starting the implementation of the scheme. 

The House panel added that for the scheme to start on time, the Union government needs to push State and Union Territory governments to finish data collection on sewer workers as soon as possible and also encourage the governments to start setting up Responsible Sanitation Authority and Emergency Sanitation Response Units so that targets can be set and achieved as envisioned. 

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