Tamil Nadu

‘South India accounts for more septic tanks, sewer deaths’

Bezwada Wilson, Ramon Magsaysay recipient 2016 and convenor, Safai Karamchari Andolan speaking at the Luminary Lecture Series organised as part of the centenary celebrations of Christian Medical College, Vellore on Wednesday.

Bezwada Wilson, Ramon Magsaysay recipient 2016 and convenor, Safai Karamchari Andolan speaking at the Luminary Lecture Series organised as part of the centenary celebrations of Christian Medical College, Vellore on Wednesday.

Southern States in the country might have done away with majority of dry latrines but accounts for more number of deaths of manual scavengers engaged in cleaning septic tanks and sewers, according to Bezwada Wilson, Ramon Magsaysay award recipient and convenor of Safai Karamchari Andolan.

“The number of community dry latrines and individual dry latrines has gone down in south India. But septic tank cleaning is more in the south. This is due to urbanisation. For instance, there are 633 statutory towns in Tamil Nadu, while there are 613 in Uttar Pradesh. Everybody has a toilet here. There are more deaths of those engaged in cleaning septic tanks and sewers in the south,” he said, while answering a question whether manual scavenging has been eradicated in southern States.

He was here to deliver the first luminary lecture organised as part of the centenary celebrations of Christian Medical College on Wednesday. Mr. Wilson stressed the need to bring about technological solution for cleaning septic tanks and sewers.

He added that 1,670 persons have been “killed” while cleaning sewer lines and septic tanks in the country.

Noting that manual scavenging continues in the country, he said 1.6 lakh of women continue to clean human excreta from dry latrines in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Uttarakhand and Jammu and Kashmir. “The country is prospering. In the budget, investments are made in so many sectors but dry latrines still continue. Why should we continue an age-old practice? How do we change the mindset of caste, hierarchy and patriarchy?” he questioned.

Scavenging in trains

“We have new types of trains, but 1.76 lakh toilets in compartments are still not mechanised. If someone defecates when the train is at a station, the excreta falls on the railway track, and has to be cleaned by a manual scavenger. This year, the Railway Minister announced that 500 compartments will have eco toilets but this is not sufficient,” he stated.

While crores are spent on increasing the speed of trains, converting dry latrines to flush out is yet to be done, he noted.

He pointed out that under the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993, violations were punishable with imprisonment of one year. He added that nobody has been punished under this Act till now.

“There are 675 Collectors in the country but they have not punished a single person,” he noted.

Swachh Bharat mission

To a question if Swachh Bharat mission has brought any changes, he said it envisaged construction of 21 crore toilets at a cost of ₹2 lakh crores and addressed the problem of open defecation. “Swachh Bharat mission has no idea of eradicating manual scavenging, mechanisation of sewage system and modernisation of sewage plants. There is great difficulty to manage the existing toilets. There is no technology to clean or empty septic tanks,” he stated.

He asked, “If more toilets are constructed, who are going to clean the septic tanks if there is no drainage system? This created an additional problem for eradication of manual scavenging.”

“We should create a society in which no woman should clean human excreta; no one should enter a manhole and die. We should develop a mechanised system and modernise our sewer system,” he added.

CMC’s director J.V. Peter and principal Anna B. Pulimood were present.


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Printable version | Jul 1, 2022 5:28:33 am | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/south-india-accounts-for-more-septic-tanks-sewer-deaths/article22899203.ece