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Septic tank deaths could take the sheen off the Swachh Bharat Mission

Under its Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, the government had planned to build 21 crore toilets by 2019. Did they think in terms of the number of septic tanks and the burden it will have on scavengers?

analysis Updated: Sep 10, 2018 16:56 IST
KumKum Dasgupta
KumKum Dasgupta
Hindustan Times
Municipal worker attempts to unblock a sewer, New Delhi, October 7, 2009(Raj K Raj / Hindustan Times)

On September 9, four young men were killed and one critically injured when they stepped into a sewage treatment plant of a residential complex at Moti Nagar in West Delhi. According to a news report, colleagues of the workers alleged that cleaning the septic tank was not a part of their duty, but were forced to do it.

These deaths could have been avoided, if the provisions of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, were followed.

The law places an obligation on every employer of any person cleaning a sewer/septic tank to provide protective gear and cleaning equipment including full-body suits and also ensure safety precautions before manual cleaning of a sewer or septic tank.

Further, to avoid injuries, the employer is required to ensure that all employees who are present on-site during cleaning are trained and familiar with the knowledge to operate all equipment involved in the cleaning work, and that they use safety gear and devices before entering a sewer line. It also talks about talks about regular medical check-up and vaccination and a life insurance for cleaners.

There is a four-tier setup for enforcement of the Act: The district magistrate, local authorities, inspectors, vigilance committee, monitoring committee, the National Commission for Safai Karmacharis. However the capacity and associated institutions for implementing this process appear to be lacking even in the national capital, a Centre for Policy Research brief correctly notes.

We are nearing the fourth anniversary (October 2) of the Swachch Bharat Mission, and local and state administrations are competing against each other to build toilets, one of key aims of the mission.

One question, however, will be hanging in the air, a question that is best articulated by Magsaysay Award winner Bezwada Wilson: “Under its Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, the government had planned to build 21 crore toilets by 2019. Did they think in terms of the number of septic tanks and the burden it will have on scavengers? The latest deaths in Delhi give this question a fresh impetus.

Also, this one question ---- and the Delhi deaths ---- could take the sheen off the Swachh Bharat Mission.

@kumkumdasgupta

First Published: Sep 10, 2018 16:53 IST