PUCL lauds Rajasthan CM for announcing that no manual scavengers will enter sewers

On July 6, 2020, Ashok Gehlot had asked district authorities to make sure that all sewer cleaning work be done by machines

Image Courtesy:indiatoday.in

The People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) has lauded the Rajasthan Government’s decision where it announced that no sanitary worker will enter into sewerage or septic tanks for manual cleaning and that all such work would henceforth be carried out by machines.

On July 6, 2020, the Rajasthan government appreciated the work of sanitation workers in the curbing of the coronavirus infection in the state and asked district magistrates and municipal authorities to ensure that no sanitation worker enters septic pits for cleaning. In the video conference conducted with public representatives of urban bodies and sanitation bodies Gehlot had said, “This work should be done entirely by machines. It should be ensured that nobody loses their life due to entering into a septic tank.”

PUCL said that the state government’s decision was very commendable and a great victory of the safai karamchari movement. It added, “Of these, we consider the safai karamchari movement run by Prakash Kardale (Hadale) in Rajasthan and the movement run by Bezwada Wilson run at the national level, the Safai Karamchari Andolan, a great success.”

It has also urged the state government authorities to take urgent action on Gehlot’s words by purchasing essential equipment for the same, lest it become just another declaration on a piece of paper.

It must be noted that a 2014 Supreme Court judgement in the matter, prohibits anyone from working in sewers or septic tanks. If it has to be done in case of an emergency, it can only be allowed with the use of adequate safety gear like facemasks, goggles, gloves, safety belt, etc. The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 also prohibits the manual cleaning of sewers without protective equipment, the violation of which is punishable by imprisonment and fine or both.

As per data made available on the National Safai Karamchari Commission website, from 1993 to July 5 2019, around 38 people have lost their lives from working with sewers in the state. In a 2018 survey by the Central government, as many as 7,381 people registered themselves as manual scavengers, but only 2,590 (35%) were identified by the state, The Wire reported. Even this more than a three-fold rise, from 338 workers in 2013. It was also reported that of all those sanitation workers who lost their lives cleaning sewers between 1993 and 2019, families of only eight workers received the full compensation of Rs. 10 lakh each as set by the Supreme Court.

On July 8, 2020, two days after the government announced the decision, The Times of India reported Conveyor of NGO Safai Karamchari Andolan Prakash Hadale as saying, “These declarations have been made many times in the past but nothing has been done on ground level. Though manual scavenging is illegal as per law the practice is still prevalent in the state. The Safai Karamchari Commission which is supposed to monitor such activities, is defunct since assembly elections. Many private bodies are employing sanitation workers to go down in manholes for cleaning but the government has no control over them.”

Hence, while the decision is appreciative, what remains to be seen if it will still be implemented on ground, especially during this trying time.


Sanitation & Justice: Classify Sanitation Workers as Health Workers
Death by excreta: The cursed lives of India’s manual scavengers
Stop killing us in sewers and septic tanks: Bezwada Wilson



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