No manual scavenging deaths, 941 died while cleaning sewers: Govt
Union social justice minister Virendra Kumar also told the Rajya Sabha that 58,098 manual scavengers were identified across the country in two separate surveys in 2013 and 2018
New Delhi: No one succumbed to manual scavenging in India but 941 workers died while cleaning sewers and septic tanks in the last three decades, the government told Parliament on Wednesday, triggering condemnation from activists.
Union social justice minister Virendra Kumar also told the Rajya Sabha that 58,098 manual scavengers were identified across the country in two separate surveys in 2013 and 2018.
“There is no report of death due to manual scavenging. However, we have reports regarding deaths of workers while being engaged in cleaning of sewers or septic tanks,” he said, listing out 941 deaths since 1993, when manual scavenging was first banned.
Tamil Nadu reported the highest number of such deaths at 213, followed by 153 in Gujarat, 104 in Uttar Pradesh, 98 in Delhi, 84 in Karnataka and 73 in Haryana, the data showed.
In response to another question, Minister of State for Social Justice and Empowerment Ramdas Athawale said 941 deaths have been recorded since 1993. Last week, Athawale told the Upper House that no deaths of manual scavengers were reported across the country in the last five years.
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 continues clandestinely and overtly.
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 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.
Activists and experts condemned the government’s response and said the distinction between manual scavenging and people dying in sewers was not practical.
“We have always said this is a technicality. This amounts to manipulating data,” said Magsaysay awardee and Safai Karmachari Andolan founder Bezwada Wilson.
“The major problem is that the government is not understanding the importance of human dignity and self respect of the most marginalised. This is barbaric. The right to life and dignity is the responsibility of the government,” he said.
Dalit activist Ashok Bharati said cleaning sewers and septic tanks was included in the 2013 law and therefore should be considered manual scavenging. “The government should take this up,” he added.