Insanitary latrines have been built in a township for visitors to Shravanabelagola for the coming Mahamastakabhishekha event , triggering a controversy, as such toilets violate the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Act, 2013.
A group of paid workers, some of them Dalits, arrived in the township on December 10 last to clean the toilets. Ironically, Hassan district, where the Jain pilgrimage centre is located, has been declared open defecation free, and many regular toilets have been constructed for the festival that opens on February 17. The Mahamastakabhishekha is held once in 12 years.
The insanitary latrines have been constructed at Tyagi Nagar for religious leaders and require manual cleaning, which the law prohibits. Officers making the preparations for the Mahamastakabhishekha, where the Gomateshwara statue is anointed, said the structures were designed to suit the special requirement of some religious figures who are coming for the mega event.
A government official said, “They do not use toilets with basin sets. A cement platform has been provided. For disposal, the excreta is covered with sand, and flushed out into an open drain with water.”
The law on manual scavenging prohibits employment of workers to clean insanitary latrines. It defines an “insanitary latrine” as one that requires human excreta to be cleaned or otherwise handled manually, either in situ, or in an open drain or pit into which the excreta is discharged or flushed out. So far around 50 such religious leaders have come to the township. Among them, a few use the insanitary latrines, while some others prefer open defecation. The district administration has designated a coconut farm close to the township for open defecation, officials said.
Workers from U.P.
Around 300 workers, a majority of them Dalits from Chitrakoot in Uttar Pradesh, are in Shravanabelagola to undertake cleaning jobs in the townships. Two people in the team have been deputed to clean toilets three times a day.
Santosh Kumar, who is from the Valmiki community, heads a team of 24 workers in Tyagi Nagar. He told The Hindu that such cleaning jobs were their very means of livelihood. “We have worked wherever such mega events are held. Our team went to Ahmedabad, Haridwar and other places, wherever big events are held. We have now come here to handle cleaning work. Each employee gets ₹8,100 a month. We sweep the streets, clean toilets and remove the filth in the township,” he said.
The State government declared Hassan an open defecation free district on October 2, 2017. The administration has banned the use of plastic in the townships to maintain cleanliness, but open defecation is still witnessed.
The task of implementing temporary townships for the event is handled by the Karnataka Road Development Corporation, a Government of Karnataka enterprise. It hired a private firm to execute the work through a tender process. The Corporation looks after construction and maintenance of the townships for four months. The local body, Shravanabelagola Gram Panchayat, has no role in maintaining the temporary townships.
When The Hindu asked Hassan Deputy Commissioner Rohini Sindhuri about the presence of insanitary toilets, she said Tyagi Nagar had been handed over to the Jain Mutt. “The mutt is looking after the saints as per their customs and traditions,” she said.