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Wednesday, Nov 20, 2019

Centre asks states, UTs to put an end to manual scavenging

Union social justice minister Ramdas Athwale on July 3 told Rajya Sabha that the states have until June 30 reported 620 deaths of sanitation workers while cleaning sewers or septic tanks since 1993 while 88 were reported in the past three years.

india Updated: Jul 17, 2019 09:00 IST
Anisha Dutta
Anisha Dutta
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Municipal worker attempts to unblock a sewer overflowing with human excreta in New Delhi. Although a law bans manual scavenging - the manual removal of human excreta from 'dry toilets' - the practice is widespread across cities and towns in India.
Municipal worker attempts to unblock a sewer overflowing with human excreta in New Delhi. Although a law bans manual scavenging - the manual removal of human excreta from 'dry toilets' - the practice is widespread across cities and towns in India.(Photo: Raj K Raj / Hindustan Times)
         

The Centre on Tuesday cited rising deaths during hazardous cleaning of sewers and septic tanks while directing states and union territories (UTs) to urgently stop the undesirable practices of manual scavenging. The ministry of housing and urban affairs has advised them to set up Emergency Response Sanitation Units (ERSUs) in major cities on the lines of fire stations in capital cities of each state and major cities.

A letter, written by ministry of housing and urban affairs’ secretary Durga Shanker Mishra on Wednesday to all state chief secretaries directs all state Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) to set up ERSUs in cities having a municipal corporation and a water & sewerage board with population of more than one lakh. ERSUs will also be responsible to meet sanitation emergency requests from all smaller towns within a cluster of about 75 km radius.

Union social justice minister Ramdas Athwale on July 3 told Rajya Sabha that the states have until June 30 reported 620 deaths of sanitation workers while cleaning sewers or septic tanks since 1993 while 88 were reported in the past three years.

Hazardous cleaning of sewers and septic tanks is banned under the Prevention of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act (PEMSRA), 2013. The law bars individuals, local authorities or agencies from engaging or employing directly or indirectly anyone for hazardous cleaning of sewers or septic tanks.

“While mechanical cleaning of sewer/septic tanks needs to be vigorously promoted and it is ensured that only mechanical devices are employed wherever feasible, human entry in sewer/septic tanks cannot be completely avoided. It is also practised in many other countries as well, but under full protective gear. Therefore, in order to implement the provisions of PEMSRA Act, 2013, regarding hazardous cleaning of Sewers/ Septic Tanks, it is advised that States/UTs/ ULBs should set up an Emergency Response Sanitation Unit (ERSU),” Shanker wrote.

The Centre directed that sanitation workers traditionally engaged in sewer and septic tank cleaning be properly trained, equipped and certified as Sewer Entry Professionals (SEPs). It called for banning entry of people in sewers and septic tanks other than properly equipped and ERSU authorised SEPs

“In case of any default, a FIR [First Information Report] should be automatically lodged under the PEMSRA, 2013, against the principal employer, contractor, sanitary inspector of the local body as well as the individuals engaged in such hazardous task without proper authorization and equipment,” Shanker said.

In March 2014, the Supreme Court called for criminalising entry into sewers without safety gears. It said Rs 10 lakh compensation be given to families of those who die in such cases.

Shanker’s letter cited press reports regarding fatalities attributed to entry into sewers and septic tanks of personnel employed for their cleaning or removal of chokes. “As per available reports, such individuals were not provided with necessary personal protective equipments (PPE), training or backup support by employers such as contractors/ supervisors of the local bodies or private entities to undertake such activities in hazardous confined spaces,” Shanker said.