More than two years after manual scavenging was prohibited, the practice continues unabated in the national capital. The Delhi State Legal Service Authority (DSLSA) has reported that at least 233 such workers are working with various agencies in the capital.
Manual scavenging or the practice of cleaning human excreta manually from dry latrines and sewers is prohibited under the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013.
Terming it a “shocking state of affairs”, a Delhi high court bench of justice BD Ahmed and justice Ashutosh Kumar on Wednesday sought explanation on affidavits filed by government agencies claiming they do not employ manual scavengers.
“This completely belies the statement made by the Delhi Jal Board, MCDs and other authorities concerned,” it said.
“Take action against those officers under whose jurisdiction this is happening…Register an FIR, let them go to jail,” the bench remarked adding, “We are a country of poor people but not for poor people”.
As per the 2013 Act, a person is punishable with up to two years in jail for engaging or employing any person for hazardous cleaning of a sewer or a septic tank.
In the previous hearing, the bench refused to buy the agencies’ statement that no manual scavengers exist despite admitting the existence of a large number of toilets, which are linked to sewers. The court directed the DSLSA to conduct a survey to identify manual scavengers for their rehabilitation.
Dharmesh Sharma, member secretary of DSLSA, said of the 233 manual scavengers, 104 were government employees and the rest, 129, were outsourced or private contract workers.
One of the scavengers was a “post graduate”, the report said.
Sharma said employees of municipal corporations and Delhi Jal Board (DJB) do not enter deep pits and oursource the job to other workers.
The report said MCD has not supplied any safety equipment to its workers who clean sewers or latrines. It said the DJB, however, provides gumboots, ropes, gloves, safety belts, helmets and first-aid-box to such workers.
However, the workers rarely use them as they are heavy and they are not given transport to carry them from one place to another, the report said.
Many of the manual scavengers are suffering from poor eyesight, skin diseases, spinal injuries, respiratory problems and tuberculosis. The report also said that the use of alcohol and drugs is rampant among the outsourced workers.
DSLSA said the Centre and state government has not prepared any scheme for welfare and rehabilitation of manual scavengers in Delhi.
The report quoted an NGO as saying that most scavengers are daily workers hired from UP, Bihar, Rajasthan and other states. The NGO also claimed that 1,070 people died while cleaning sewers in the last few years.
The HC fixed the matter for further hearing on August 10.