Manual scavenging continues in Madurai

C.J. Rajan, Head, Samam Kudimakkal Iyakkam, says that the Act clearly specifies that the district or State machinery should strictly monitor and ensure that no manual scavenging is practised.

Updated - October 20, 2015 09:29 am IST

Published - October 20, 2015 12:00 am IST

The death of two conservancy workers owing to asphyxiation on Wednesday when they were cleaning an underground drainage at HMS Colony here has exposed the lack of safety measures in place for them and ignorance of the ban on manual scavenging.

A similar incident occurred in 2009 when a contract worker of the City Corporation died in a similar fashion while removing blockage with two others without wearing protective gear. Another worker succumbed at a hospital two days later.

Though there is ban on manual scavenging under the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, activists in the city say that there is little or no monitoring to prevent the practice.

C.J. Rajan, Head, Samam Kudimakkal Iyakkam, says that the Act clearly specifies that the district or State machinery should strictly monitor and ensure that no manual scavenging is practised. “Manual scavenging is something that is rooted deep in society as many are still engaged in it,” Mr. Rajan says, adding it is the collective responsibility of the people to prevent this practice.

“Manual scavenging continues to take place quietly in many areas in the city since no one voices dissent against it. Instead of waiting for the government to take action, conservancy workers must be aware of the ban and refuse to do such work which is undertaken under dangerous conditions in the absence of proper equipment or machinery,” he says.

The engineering division of Madurai Corporation has on its rolls 240 contract workers who are required to remove blocks in the underground drainage system by entering into the drains through manholes. These workers report to drainage inspectors and sanitary inspectors.

No protective gear

It is not uncommon to see conservancy workers unclogging manholes with sticks and rods without wearing shoes, gloves or masks. A conservancy worker admitted that they never receive these protective gear from their contractors.

“Many of them either do not know about such protective gear or chose not to give them,” he says.

This being the case for conservancy workers, their counterparts who clear dust and debris off roads also work without masks or gloves.

A corporation official says that many workers do not wear the protective gear issued to them. But M. Balasubramanian, general secretary, City Corporation Conservancy Workers Unit of Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), says that there are no sustained efforts to provide the protective gear to the workers.

“The corporation does not take manual scavenging seriously since the workers are engaged only by contractors. It is the duty of the corporation authorities to step in and ensure that manual scavenging is not practised and the workers wear the protective gear and use machinery. In many cases, families of the deceased workers do not get compensation for the loss of the breadwinner. The conservancy workers’ unions are planning to move the court over this issue,” Mr. Balasubramanian says.

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