Concerned by the incidents of workers dying while cleaning sewers and septic tanks, the Union Housing and Urban Affairs Ministry has asked all States and Union Territories to set up emergency response sanitation units (ERSU), which would include trained cleaners wearing protective gear.
In letters to all Chief Secretaries on July 12, Housing and Urban Affairs Ministry Secretary Durga Shanker Mishra wrote: “The Government of India is seized of press reports regarding number of fatalities attributed to entry into sewers and septic tanks (both public and private) of personnel employed for their cleaning or removal of chokes.”
While manual scavenging is officially banned, under the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, incidents of private individuals, local bodies and contractors forcing people to enter sewers and tanks to clear blockages continue to be reported. The official said the workers had not been given protective gear, training or backup support by their employers.
He said while mechanical cleaning should be promoted, there were some instances when human entry into sewers and tanks could not be avoided.
“Therefore, to implement the provisions of PEMSRA Act, 2013 regarding hazardous cleaning of sewers/septic tanks, it is advised that States/Uts/ULBs [urban local bodies] should set up an ERSU, on the lines of the fire service station, in capital cities of each State/UT and in all major cities having a municipal corporation and/or water and sewerage board with population of more than one lakh,” the letter said.
The district Magistrate or municipal commissioner would be designated as the Responsible Sanitation Authority, which would organise the staff for the ERSU, the letter said. He added that those trained, equipped and certified as sewer entry professionals would be the only ones allowed to enter sewers and septic tanks.