Swachh Bharat Mission

[op-ed snap] Towards dignity

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Governance | mechanisms, laws, institutions & Bodies constituted for the protection & betterment of these vulnerable sections

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Constitutional and other provisions to end manual scavenging and their lax implementation leading to loss of lives of manual scavengers.


NEWS

CONTEXT

The Delhi government introduced o a fleet of 200 machine-equipped trucks to eliminate manual scavenging.

Technology led initiative

  • The sewer-cleaning machines have been designed to meet the demands of the small lanes in the capital’s slums and urban villages.
  • Each unit has a tank to spray water and a sludge compartment to collect the silt cleaned up by the machine — this sludge was usually left along the sewer during manual cleaning.
  • The machines will be given to manual scavengers, who will be trained to operate them.
  • The sanitation workers, who will be given the new machines, were identified by a Delhi government survey last year.

State’s denial in Identification of manual scavengers

  • Delhi lacks an accurate count of the people engaged in manual scavenging.
  • During a survey last year by the Centre, the governments of Haryana, Bihar and Telangana did not report even a single manual scavenger.
  • But the task force conducting the survey — it comprised members from the ministries of social justice, rural development, drinking water and sanitation, and housing and urban affairs and the National Safai Karamchari Finance and Development Corporation — found that there were 1,221 manual scavengers in Bihar, Haryana had 846 such workers and 288 people in Telangana were engaged in this dehumanising practice.

Failure in the implementation of the law

  • The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, allows the use of manual labour to clean sewage if the employer provides safety gear.
  • But, in practice, this provision is more flouted than followed.
  • According to the social justice ministry’s records, one person dies every five days while cleaning sewers — unofficial reports indicate that the figure could be much higher.
  • Municipal corporations and local bodies very often outsource the sewer cleaning tasks to private contractors, who do not maintain proper rolls of workers.
  • In case after case of sanitation workers being asphyxiated to death while working toxic sludge pools in different parts of the country, these contractors have denied any association with the deceased.

Way forward

The Delhi government’s move to use machines is a first step towards according dignity and respect to sewer workers. It should be emulated in other parts of the country. However, technology’s emancipatory powers will be realised at their fullest only when the states stop living in denial about manual scavenging.

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