Despite the state government issuing notification of the Prohibition of Manual Scavenging Act recently, sewer men are still being forced to work in hazardous conditions as the municipal corporation (MC) has failed to provide them safety kits.
The act prohibits “hazardous cleaning” of a sewer or septic tank without the employer fulfilling his obligations to provide protective gear and other cleaning devices and ensuring observance of safety precautions, as may be prescribed or provided in any other law.
It also prohibits any person, local authority or any agency from engaging or employing, either directly or indirectly, any person for hazardous cleaning of a sewer or a septic tank, from the date of the state government’s notification.
However, sewer men can still be commonly seen working in manholes without wearing masks or other safety equipment. In January, a sewer man, Surinder Kumar, had died after going into a manhole due to asphyxiation. He was not wearing any safety equipment. Before Kumar, numerous sewer men have met the same fate.
Later, the MC had assured to provide safety kits to its sewer men. Even city mayor Harcharan Singh Gohalwaria and former MC commissioner Rahul Tewari had given directions that officials concerned should not allow sewer men to enter manholes without safety kits, including oxygen masks and gloves. But the assurances have failed to come in effect.
According to experts, carbon monoxide, ammonia, sulphur dioxide, nitrous oxide and phosgene gases are common in sewers, which can cause unconsciousness and death by asphyxiation.
Amarjit Singh Sekhon, chief of health wing of MC, said, “The act was passed by the central government and its notification was issued a few days ago by the state government. However, we are yet to receive the notification letter.”
“Following the notification, the sanitary workers cannot enter manholes without prior inspection by an executive engineer. It is also mandatory for the sewer men to wear safety gear before entering the manholes,” he added.
“The act also provides that sewerage-related works be done with machines in future instead of recruiting new sewer men,” Sekhon said.
A visit to the EWS Colony revealed that sewer men were cleaning the sewers without taking any safety measures. When the HT photojournalist tried to take photos, the sewer man in the manhole stopped him from doing so.
However, one of the sewer men, requesting anonymity, said they had not been provided any safety kits so far.
Laxman Dravid, a Valmiki community leader and chief sanitary inspector, MC, said the safety kits were shown to them, but they were not tested. He demanded that all sewer men be insured.
When contacted, Rajinder Singh, executive engineer (XEN), zone B, MC, claimed that they had provided the safety kits, but junior engineer concerned should also be present on the spot during the cleaning work. However, no official was present when the sewer men were working.
Mayor Harcharan Singh Gohalwaria said, “An XEN-level officer should inspect the area before initiation of sewerage work. We will ensure that nobody goes inside sewers without wearing safety gear.”