Three men died in Bengaluru’s CV Raman Nagar on Tuesday, 7 March due to asphyxiation after they went into a manhole to fix it.
The three men, from Andhra Pradesh and working as manual scavengers, worked for a contractor employed by the Bengaluru Water Supply and Sewage Board (BWSSB). They were called to decongest an overflowing 15-feet pipe, and they did not have any protective gear on them.
The three men worked for Ramkay Enterprises; the owner of this Andhra-based contractor is currently absconding.
The three deceased men are Yerraiah (35), Anjaneya Reddy (34), and Dhavathi Naidu (40). They had entered the manhole one by one around 12 am on Tuesday after Monday’s light showers. Their bodies were recovered a few hours later.
A case has been filed against BWSSB and the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), Bengaluru’s administrative body. The case has been filed under Section 304 of the IPC at the Byappanahalli police station. Section 304 deals with rash or a negligent act resulting in culpable homicide.
Laxman Reddy of the Social Welfare Department told The News Minute, “According to the Prohibition of Manual Scavenging Act; people should not be deployed to clean manholes. The BWSSB has jetting machines just for this purpose. It was sheer negligence on the contractor’s behalf. The three men were not even given masks to protect themselves. The contractor must have had some knowledge about how dangerous it is. Despite that, he chose to send the men in. This is murder.”
The Logical Indian contacted the Byappanahalli police station; they told us that all required efforts were being made to find the absconding contractor and bring him to justice. We also contacted the office of KJ George, the Minister for Bengaluru Development & Town Planning, but he was unavailable for comment.
What happened in Bengaluru was yet another instance of citizens dying of manual scavenging. Despite being prohibited by law, manual scavenging continues in 21st century India.
What is manual scavenging?
Manual scavenging involves the worst kind of labour in the country. It involves removal of raw human excreta manually from sewers using basic hand-held equipment. Over 1,80,000 families are still involved in this practice. Needless to say, the unhygienic activities and unbearable conditions involved in the task of manual scavenging takes toll on the lives of the scavengers.
- Manual scavengers are people who climb into drains and manholes – sometimes two storeys deep – to clean sewage and faeces.
- Dead babies, rotting street dogs, road kills, sanitary napkins drenched in blood, glass, needles, medical waste, diapers – there is nothing that these workers have not touched with their bare hands.
Manual scavenging in India
- Manual scavenging is prohibited in India.
- Across India, there are over 12 lakh manual scavengers.
- Among them, more than 22,000 deaths are reported each year.
- Many suffer from jaundice, tuberculosis and acute liver malfunctions.
In March 2014, the Supreme Court declared that there were 96 lakh dry latrines being manually emptied. And as per reports received from the States and Union Territories in 2016, 12,226 manual scavengers have been identified so far.
According to a report tabled in the Rajya Sabha in 2016, 22,327 lose their lives every year due to manual scavenging. The Supreme Court had directed authorities to pay a sum of Rs 10 lakh to the affected families; however, the families had received only about Rs 60,000.
Measures against manual scavenging
The Prohibition of Manual Scavengers Act, 2013 provides for the prohibition of employment of people as manual scavengers and the rehabilitation of manual scavengers and their families.
The Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment implements a “Self Employment Scheme for the Rehabilitation of Manual Scavengers” (SRMS). This provides the following:
- One-time cash assistance of Rs 40,000 each to the identified manual scavengers;
- Loan for undertaking livelihood projects upto Rs 15 lakh at concessional rate of interest;
- Credit linked capital subsidy upto Rs 3,25,000;
- Skill development training upto two years with stipend of Rs 3000 per month.
The government aims for an India without manual scavenging by 2019.
However, manual scavenging still survives in parts of India without proper sewage systems or safe fecal sludge management practices. It is most prevalent in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, and Rajasthan. Moreover, the Prohibition of Manual Scavengers Act has not been implemented properly as manual scavenging continues and manual scavengers continue to die.
Why does manual scavenging continue in India?
An estimated 62,000 million litres per day (MLD) of sewage is generated in urban areas; only about 30% of this waste goes through treatment plants. The rest is dumped into rivers, seas, and wells. Furthermore, 85 million people in urban India lack adequate sanitation. These numbers are only for urban India; numbers for rural India are worse.
The percentage of households practicing open defecation as on 31 March 2015 is 55.21% according to numbers released by the Lok Sabha.
The major reason for continued existence of manual scavenging is existence of insanitary latrines. These are latrines without water, where the excreta must be physically removed.
Another major contributor to the continued existence of this crime is the Indian Railways. Many train carriages have toilets dropping the excreta from trains on the tracks; scavengers are employed to clean these tracks manually.
The Logical Indian take
Manual scavenging is modern-day slavery. That it continues in 21st century India is something that should horrify and outrage us all.
What happened in Bengaluru killed three innocent citizens. This was not an isolated incident. Literally, thousands die every year due to illegal and unprotected manual scavenging in India. And this is based on official numbers of reported deaths; the actual number could be much higher after taking into account rural and unreported deaths.
The Logical Indian requests the authorities to take strict action against the employers of Yerraiah, Anjaneya Reddy, and Dhavathi Naidu. The employers should be made to face the law and punished accordingly.
At the same time, it is important that we ensure that further deaths due to manual scavenging do not occur. The Prohibition of Manual Scavengers Act should be implemented with more efficiency; the governments at the centre and the states should establish that manual scavenging will not be tolerated and lawbreakers will be punished. Also, alternate means of employment should be generated for the impoverished people who are forced to become manual scavengers due to lack of alternatives means of livelihood.