Manual Scavenging is quite a common social stigma attached with them in the society. One day few manual scavengers, employed to clean sewer and toilets inside the District Court complex by the Public Works Department,were neither given any safety equipment, nor gloves. When the advocates in the court premises opposed this, the engineer ignored them by denoting the manual scavenging as “a small work” with no hazards involved. When opposed by few advocates, it led to a fight between PWD workers and advocates. Later advocates called a press conference and raised the issue – “We saw few workers who were clad in their inners and were inside the drain cleaning it with bare hands. We (lawyers) got together and opposed it but the engineers did not listen to us. Despite the Supreme Court passing a judgment on this issue, it is shocking that even in court complexes manual scavenging continues. Even government organizations are not following the government rules.” You are a district administration head. Due to the above stated case, following situation arises: (a) All those involved in the manual scavenging and others ad hoc safai karamchari went on strike and demanded for better livelihood. When you called all the community members for a meeting to discuss the issue, no one turned up. (b) Advocates came to you and demanded for stringent action against the official and threatened to go on strike. (c) When you called to PWD official for understanding their version of the issue, they told you that it was an urgent assignment pressurized from above; thus they did not have time going for scheduled procedure. They felt very demotivated. What are the best options available to solve the above stated problems? How will you effectively address all the issues? And also discuss limitations of each course of action. (250 Words)

Answer:

(a) All those involved in the manual scavenging and others ad hoc safai karamchari went on strike and demanded for better livelihood. When you called all the community members for a meeting to discuss the issue, no one turned up.

  • Actions should start from “building trust” and not “aggravating suspicion”. This point should be conveyed and sent to all the stakeholders. If we try for betterment of a social rote, it will not happen by the ‘blame game’.
  • Better employment demand is based on the social perception of scavenging being a ’lowly’ work with low wages and lower social status. Nevertheless in essence it is like any other occupation which serves a great purpose for the society as well as provides livelihood.
  • But because of skewed social value system both the scavenging staffs as well as those who get their services consider it a lowly job. So at the first instance this ‘mental block’ or wrong attitude should be given up.
  • This requires an open mind and a utilitarian understanding by both the side regarding the issue of scavenging. However, this will take time because social change process takes time.
  • However, the working conditions can be improved; better equipment and safety tools for health, hygiene and security etc. may be provided along with some extra cash incentives to the scavenging staff to convince them that society ‘respect’ their work and recognizes their ‘contribution’. It may instill ‘confidence’ among them and restore their ‘dignity’ partially.
  • If they are undeterred and still continue with the proposition of strike, the administrators try to call their representatives and listen to their grievances with a promise to accept their legitimate demands.
  • Even then if they continue their stir, if other channels are closed and there is a need, the higher authorities should take strong actions against the strikers (like cut in wages for absence or suspension) if they not come back on duty, but at the same time give incentives to those who come to work.
  • If things become normal the suspended workers should be called back. The approach in such cases should be the use of ‘carrot’ and ‘stick’.

(b) Advocates came to you and demanded for stringent action against the official and threatened to go on strike.

  • As far as possible government officials need to set the precedent for others, hence should follow the laws pertaining to the scavenging. The demand for advocates for stringent action should not be construed as forcefully subjugating the scavenging staff to work and administrative staff to take inhuman actions may not work.
  • Advocates are educated and if the concerned departments convince them that law pertaining to the scavenging would henceforth comply strictly then they may understand.
  • Advocates are only one of the stakeholders and it needs to understand the constraints of other agencies involved in implementing the law.
  • Other agencies may be given time and constraints faced by them in implementing the laws need to be removed for optimum and efficient implementation of laws related to manual scavenging. Also in case of inadvertent failures, there must be some flexibility, as in the case cited above (in court premises). But it should be “exception” than” rule.”

(c) When you called to PWD official for understanding their version of the issue, they told you that it was an urgent assignment pressurized from above; thus they did not have time going for scheduled procedure. They felt very demotivated.

  • The stakeholders, especially the officers and workers must be made aware about their rights and duties in this regard.
  • And there needs to be adequate arrangement for grievance redress of all the sides- service providers, service beneficiaries and law implementers.

(d) What are the best options available to solve the above-stated problems? How will you effectively address all the issues? And also discuss the limitations of each course of action.

  • Officers must take trust-building measures. The advocates may be made to understand that this is a complex social problem and cannot be instantly solved.
  • It is a time taking process. It must be conveyed by the administration that their point is ‘well taken’ and they have raised their voice on the right occasion. There is no need to be demotivated.
  • Such problems have a long historic and social legacy behind them and the perception of these works as “lowly’ and people doing it also as ‘low’ needs to be fought through education and awareness campaigns.
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