Manual Scavenging: 4 die cleaning septic tank in Surat

After the motor failed, four migrant workers set to the task of cleaning a septic tank by hand. When one of them failed to respond after venturing into the 25 feet deep tank, the rest of them followed suit - each to his own death.
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Four migrant workers died in Surat in a septic tank on Wednesday, November 15. All of them were migrant workers from Bihar, according to the New Indian Express. They were reportedly contracted by a company to clean eight septic tanks. 

The workers were initially supplied with machinery for the task at hand, however when the machine failed to work thereby, one of them was forced to enter the sewage tank, which was about 25 feet deep, themselves. The other workers consecutively followed suit when there was no response from the first worker, until all of them were down in the septic tank and had fallen unconscious, according to H.L. Rathod, the Deputy Superintendent of Police, Surat Rural. 

After receiving a distress call, emergency response teams quickly arrived at the scene but despite efforts by firefighters to extract the unconscious workers from the septic tank, they were declared dead by the 108-emergency team. The bodies of the four victims were then transported to Surat Government Hospital for a post-mortem examination, according to the report. The police have indicated that, while it seems to be an accident prima facie, if any evidence of foul play arises, they will deal with it diligently. 

While Manual Scavenging has long been outlawed, the practice that has been described by the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillai, as a “dreadful practice”, it still continues to be prevalent in society. In the past 5 years, about 340 deaths from manual scavenging in India. 

On October 20, 2023, the Supreme Court issued a directive instructing the Union government, state governments, and the union territories to ensure the complete eradication of the practice of manual scavenging. Furthermore, the court went on to increase the compensation for the families of workers who lose their lives while cleaning sewers from Rs 10 lakh to Rs 30 lakh. 

Despite the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, which outlaws and bans the practice of manually removing human excreta from sewer lines or septic tanks, manual scavenging persists in various parts of the country. In 2023, the Union government acknowledged that about 1,035 individuals have lost their lives while cleaning sewers and septic tanks across India since 1993. Similarly, according to Sabrang India, it was noted that out of the 616 cases registered under the Manual Scavenging Act against contractors for neglecting to provide safety gear to sanitation workers, only one has resulted in a conviction. This is despite the fact that the government had stated it would aim to abolish manual scavenging by 2021. For a detailed look at the law that governs and bans Manual Scavenging in India, tune into 3 article series on the law by Citizens for Justice and Peace. 


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