Lawyers demand end to manual scavenging

Shivpuri zila panchayat CEO directs civic agencies to act within 15 days

November 27, 2019 12:26 am | Updated 10:44 am IST - Bhopal

A group of lawyers present jars containing human excreta and sewage samples at a public hearing at the Shivpuri Collectorate on November 26, 2019. Photo: Special Arrangement

A group of lawyers present jars containing human excreta and sewage samples at a public hearing at the Shivpuri Collectorate on November 26, 2019. Photo: Special Arrangement

At a public hearing on Constitution Day on Tuesday, a group of human rights lawyers in Shivpuri placed on the District Collector’s table jars containing human excreta and sewage samples in protest against “inaction” over repeated complaints of manual scavenging in the district. They demanded punishment for officials and protective gear for sewer cleaners.

The practice of manual scavenging, they claimed, continued unabated at three locations in the city — behind Vidyadevi Hospital, near Jal Mandir and behind PWD quarters. “The safai karamcharis are engaged in removing human excreta which flows from homes and into open drains by the side of the road,” read a memorandum submitted to the District Collector.

Report not submitted

During a visit to the district on September 19, the State Human Rights Commission had asked the Collector to submit a report within 15 days on manual scavenging and hazardous cleaning of sewers. The report hasn’t been submitted yet.

“On Samvidhan Diwas (Constitution Day) and in the light of the spirit of the Constitution and the rights it provides to the most marginalised”, the lawyers demanded an FIR against officials responsible, identification of manual scavengers, survey of insanitary latrines and distribution of safety equipment to sewer cleaners within a fortnight.

Heeding the demands at the meeting, H.P. Verma, CEO, zila panchayat, directed the Municipal Council and the Public Health Engineering Department to act within 15 days to put an end to the practice in the district and provide protective gear to sewer cleaners.

“The workers are not cleaning drains with bare hands but using equipment,” District Collector Anugraha P. told The Hindu . “In any case, they are not removing excreta but cleaning drains. There needs to be a behavioural change to end this practice, which may take time,” she said.

During a visit to Shivpuri last month, The Hindu had found a worker behind the PWD quarters removing human excreta using a shovel in an open drain. All sanitation workers in the city belong to the Mehtar community. While 15 men are tasked with clearing drains clogged with human excreta, carcasses and polythene bags, 35-40 women spruce up the streets.

“It’s not about provision of equipment to manual scavengers. It’s about ending the practice by closing open drains and creating septic tanks, and rehabilitating the workers,” said Abhay Jain, one of the lawyers.

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