No manual scavenging deaths, 161 died while cleaning sewers in 3 years: Govt

Updated on Apr 06, 2022 05:51 PM IST

Tamil Nadu reported the highest number of deaths due to accidents while undertaking hazardous cleaning of sewers and septic tanks.

58,098 manual scavengers were identified across the country in two surveys in 2013 and 2018 (File)
58,098 manual scavengers were identified across the country in two surveys in 2013 and 2018 (File)
ByMalavika Murali

NEW DELHI: The Centre on Wednesday said that no one succumbed to manual scavenging in India but 161 workers have died while cleaning sewers and septic tanks in the last three years.

Union minister of social justice and empowerment, Virendra Kumar, made this statement in response to a question by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP Mahesh Poddar in Rajya Sabha. Poddar sought to know how many manual scavengers died in the last three years.

“There is no report of deaths due to manual scavenging. However, 161 persons have died due to accidents while undertaking hazardous cleaning of sewer and septic tanks during the last three years,” the minister said in the written statement.

Tamil Nadu reported the highest number of such deaths at 27, followed by 26 in Uttar Pradesh, the data showed.

Kumar also told the Rajya Sabha that 58,098 manual scavengers were identified across the country in two surveys in 2013 and 2018. Under the Scheme for Rehabilitation of Manual Scavengers (SRMS), Kumar said one-time cash assistance of 40,000 was deposited directly into the bank accounts of all the identified and eligible 58,098 manual scavengers. The highest number of manual scavengers was reported from Uttar Pradesh.

The union minister added that the ministry had also launched a mobile app “Swachchata Abhiyaan” in 2020 to obtain data on unsanitary toilets and manual scavengers, if any, associated with them. “However, not a single insanitary latrine has been confirmed so far,” he added.

Manual scavenging is banned under the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013. The caste-based practice was first banned in 1993 but activists allege that it still prevails.

The government distinguishes between manual scavenging – a caste-based practice of people cleaning human excreta by hand – and the practice of cleaning sewers and septic tanks though experts point out that the latter is a mere extension of the now-banned practice.

The government’s statement comes one week after four people died inside a sewer in outer Delhi’s Samaypur Badli area.

Bezwada Wilson, the founder of Safai Karmachari Andolan, which works for sanitation workers, said the government’s denial of manual scavengers is not a new thing and that the government cannot come up with such false statements.

“The practice of cleaning dry latrine is very prevalent in UP, MP, Bihar and Jammu Kashmir. We have evidence of this and when we give this evidence, the government is terrorising those safaikarmachaaris along with the police. I have the record of how the officers are talking to them, so in such circumstances, people may not come and openly give the statement,” Wilson added.

He also urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to bring out a package for those engaged in manual scavenging and cleaning sewers and septic tanks.

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