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Feb 02, 2023

‘Need Concrete Blueprint, Not Sloganeering‘: Safai Karamcharis on Budget Promise on Sewage System

'All the noise about mechanical cleaning of sewers and septic tanks neither has any accountability nor transparency,' the Safai Karamchari Andolan said in a statement released on February 1.
Representative image of an open manhole. Photo: Sharada Prasad CS/Flickr, CC BY 2.0

New Delhi: The Safai Karamchari Andolan has slammed finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s promise of ‘manhole to machine hole’ to end manual scavenging as a “gimmickry of words”.

“All the noise about mechanical cleaning of sewers and septic tanks neither has any accountability nor transparency,” the organisation said in a statement released on February 1.

It added that safai karamcharis need a concrete blueprint, not mere sloganeering.

In her budget speech, Sitharaman said, “All cities and towns will be enabled for 100% transition of sewers and septic tanks from manhole to machine hole mode.”

Bezwada Wilson, national convenor of Safai Karamchari Andolan, said that the Union Budget 2023-24 has “nothing to offer to those who have been forced to take up manual scavenging for generations because of their caste”.

“[The] budget fails to take notice of hundreds of deaths taking place in sewers or septic tanks, all these years, whereas we at Safai Karamchari Andolan have been demonstrating on the streets daily for the last 264 days in various parts of the country, demanding to put a complete halt on deaths taking place in sewers and septic tanks. Ironically, since we started this #StopKillingUs campaign on May 11, 2022, there have been more than 50 deaths of Indian citizens inside sewers and septic tanks. But, governments are mum on that,” he said in the statement.

The Safai Karamchari Andolan demanded that the budget should have mentioned a clear deadline for the eradication of manual scavenging in all its forms, and a separate package to rehabilitate safai karamcharis and provide them a dignified job.

Also read: Manual Scavenging Is Continuing Unabated in India – And Even Children Are Forced Into It

Manual scavenging was outlawed in 1993 and again in 2013.

In 2013, the parliament had enacted the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Act outlawing all manual excrement cleaning. In 2014, the Supreme Court had directed all the states to abolish manual scavenging and take steps for rehabilitation of such workers.

However, nothing has changed since 2014, Wilson said.

“People are dying inside sewers and septic tanks and even dry latrines still exist. Why?” he said.

According to the Census of India (2011), there are still 2.6 million dry latrines in the nation that need somebody to empty the waste.

There are 7,94,390 dry latrines where humans clean excreta — 73% of these are in rural areas and 27% are in urban areas. Apart from these, there are 13,14,652 toilets where human excreta is flushed into open drains.

He also highlighted that the government had said that no person had died from manual scavenging in the country between 2019 and 2022. It had instead called them deaths due to hazardous cleaning of septic tanks and sewers.

The Wire had reported, citing responses to Right to Information queries, that between 1993 and 2019, families of only around 50% of the workers who died cleaning sewers have received the compensation of Rs 10 lakh each. The report added that in several cases, the compensation amount was less than Rs 10 lakh.

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