Other States

Manual scavenging still a grim reality in M.P.’s Shivpuri

A sanitation worker cleaning a drain behind the PWD quarters in Shivpuri.

A sanitation worker cleaning a drain behind the PWD quarters in Shivpuri.  

As PM declares nation 100% ODF, sanitation workers continue to clean sewers without protective gear

In his childhood, Sachin Valmik (name changed) wanted to become a teacher when he grew up. But upon dropping out of school, the prospect of working as a safai karamchari, given his caste, seemed more real, and pulled him into what his forefathers did for years.

Despite a law banning manual scavenging, he continues to remove human excreta from an open drain behind the PWD quarters here every morning, along with 15 other men, in shifts.

As Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared the country 100% open-defecation free (ODF) in Gujarat on Wednesday, sanitation workers employed by the Shivpuri Municipal Council and the Public Health Engineering Department continued to engage in manual scavenging and cleaning sewers without protective gear.

Adults in Mr. Valmik’s family — wife, mother, brother, sister and brother-in-law — are all safai karamcharis. And the predicament of his caste, Mehtar, a Dalit community , has taken away any semblance of hope he had for his children as well.

Caste bias

“We recently pulled out my eldest son, 14, from school. He was not allowed to sit on benches with upper caste children,” said Mr. Valmik, 42. “What use is education when society compels us to take up only one kind of work? Ghoom phir ke yeh hi kaam karte hain (We end up doing this work).”

All sanitation workers in the city are Mehtars, with 15 men tasked with clearing drains clogged with human excreta, carcasses and polythene bags and 35-40 women sprucing up the streets.

Engaging a sanitation worker for manually cleaning, carrying or disposing of human excreta is a punishable offence under the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, which mandates their identification and rehabilitation by the government. Furthermore, The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, under Section 3 (j) prohibits manual scavenging.

Of the six sewer deaths in Madhya Pradesh since 1993, four occurred in Shivpuri — two in 2014 and two in 2016 — according to the State Directorate of Urban Administration and Development.

Safety concerns

Still, safai karamcharis working in sewers and septic tanks in the district have not been provided with safety equipment, at least since 2013, which the government is mandated to provide, the PHE Department replied to a Right to Information query. This is despite repeated directions to the contractor of a new sewer line here to provide them.

“I don’t let my boys go down 20-30 feet. When Indore and Gwalior civic bodies have machines for cleaning sewers, why can’t we have them,” asked a supervisor, requesting anonymity. “In the older sewer line, things were easier as it was just six-seven feet deep.”

Unaware of manual scavenging in the city, Deputy Collector Pallavi Vaidya said, “As of now, we are not aware of manual scavenging happening anywhere in Shivpuri. Anyway, we don’t encourage or support it.”

On August 19, the State Human Rights Commission, responding to a complaint by an activist, had asked the authorities to furnish a report on manual scavenging in the district within two weeks. A district official told The Hindu that the report had been submitted to the “department concerned”.

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Printable version | Mar 25, 2020 11:05:56 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/manual-scavenging-still-a-grim-reality-in-mps-shivpuri/article29577726.ece

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