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Manual scavengers’ death shames Delhi

| | New Delhi
Manual scavengers’ death shames Delhi

Delhi has a reason to hang its head in shame as manual scavenging death toll reached 10 in the national Capital.

Though prohibited by the Supreme Court in a 2014 order, manual scavenging continues to flourish right under the apex court’s nose, across the lanes and bylanes of posh residential areas, government hospitals and upscale markets . What is horrendous in these deaths is the official apathy. The essential question is: Who is accountable and why it took so long for the authorities to wake up?

“I feel ashamed that it happened. In India, no human being could be sent to clean the sewage,” said Delhi Water Minister Rajendra Pal Gautam, who controls the Delhi Jal Board (DJB) that looks after the sewage pipelines. People who employ manual scavengers cannot be booked under “negligence” but “culpable homicide”, he said at a time when one manual scavenger died in a Government city hospital on Sunday while three were affected.

Lieutenant-Governor Anil Baijal on Monday chaired a high-level meeting at Raj Niwas. Noting frequent deaths are a grim portrayal of the unsafe working conditions of people engaged in keeping Delhi’s sewer lines and tanks unclogged, often with bare hands, the L-G termed the present situation as unacceptable. If that is the case, then people want to know: Why have political parties and establishments in Delhi failed to address it?

Rubina Rashid, a pass-out of Kirori Mal College of Delhi University, visited her college to collect her migration certificates last week and was stumped to see a “manual scavenger naked in deep shit” inside a manhole at the college despite the Supreme Court’s order banning it. “Why don’t you wear some uniform and a mask, bhaiya?” she asked. And the response was even more shocking: “It is Delhi. Life of poor people doesn’t count. I am an untouchable. If I don’t do this, where will I earn money from?”

A Bill seeking to prohibit employment of individuals as manual scavengers by prescribing stringent punishment, including imprisonment up to five years, was passed by Parliament in September 2013. It has provisions for rehabilitation of manual scavengers and their family members as well.

Manual scavenging is a violation of this act but it continues to happen in all institutions: educational, health. Recently, in the posh South Delhi Lajpat Nagar, three people — Joginder (32), Annu (28) and a 25-year-old man, yet to be identified — died after inhaling poisonous gases while clearing a sewer.

“Two brothers in Anand Vihar and four in Ghitorni died the same way.  In around a month, 10 sanitation workers have died while cleaning the sewage pipeline manually in this city,” said activists, who keep an eye on such developments.

At the Lok Nayak Hospital, while one sanitation worker died, three are being treated at the hospital.

The deaths have not moved the multiple agencies, the Public Works Department (PWD), Municipal Corporations or the DJB, involved in upkeep of the city as they continue to be involved in the blame game.

“It is a major issue but the reality is whether it is PWD or DJB, manual scavenging is preferred to mechanised cleaning because it is cheap,” said an official requesting anonymity. 

Principal Secretary PWD Ashwini Kumar told The Pioneer, “While it is important to stop manual scavenging, it cannot be done just on paper. One of the injured at Lok Nayak Hospital, Bishen’s father is employed as “beldar”, a post to supervise cleaning of drains with PWD. He is aware of the fears of the sewage cleaner and yet he didn’t stop his son… thus, sensitisation and awareness should go hand in hand while adapting to mechanised cleaning of drains.”

While the Government has formed a committee to prepare an SOP within 15 days and identify a machine used world over to clean sewage, it is high time citizens of Delhi rose to the occasion to stop a fellow citizen from a miserable end.

The L-G has directed the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of DJB to study and propose a plan of action for migration to 100 per cent mechanisation for sewers and drains’ cleaning within 15 day in coordination with Chairman of North Delhi Municipal Corporation and Commissioner of South Delhi Municipal Corporation.  The L-G further directed the  CEO (DJB) to prepare a regime for cases requiring emergency manual intervention as per law within a week’s time. Secretary (SC/ST) of the Delhi Government was directed to upload all the notifications clarifying the legal position on the website so that it can be in public domain for the benefit of the contractors as well as the users.

Baijal also directed CEO (DJB) and other departments, including the municipal bodies to undertake extensive Information, Education and Communication (IEC) campaign for widespread publicity of the harmful impact on the health of such workers as well as the illegality committed by the concerned contractor’s agencies.

He stressed that the liability of the principal employer does not get diluted and asked the Government agencies to strictly abide by the law. The employers must provide gas masks, safety harness belts, helmets and mechanised equipment, etc as legally mandated for the hazardous work of cleaning of clogged underground sewers and must ensure strict compliance of the relevant guidelines and proper arrangements of the safety and security of the workers.

The meeting was attended by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, Minister (PWD)  Satyendar Jain, Minister (Water), Rajendra Pal Gautam, Chief Secretary ,  Principal Secretary (Urban Development),  Chairman (NDMC), all three municipal commissioners, CEO (DJB), Secretary (PWD), Divisional Commissioner,  Engineer Member (DDA), Engineer-in-Chief (PWD),  CEO (Delhi Cantonment Board), Member (Drainage), DJB, special Commissioner of Police (Law & Order, South zone).

The Delhi Police was also directed to take stringent and deterrent action against those contractors who violate the law. The L-G was informed that police have already booked the concerned contractor for culpable homicide in yesterday’s tragic incident. The meeting ended with a decision to review the progress again after two weeks, an official release by the Rajbhawan stated.

 
 
 
 
 

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