New Delhi: A Delhi government survey has identified 32 manual scavengers in the city.
The authorities have denied the existence of the caste-based profession in Delhi in the past. According to the Indian Express, this is the first time the existence of the outlawed profession has been officially recognised.
The city has been witness to a number of sewer and septic tank deaths in the recent past, including in five-star hotels.
Surveys to count the number of manual scavengers are infamous for under-reporting across the country, with authorities often unwilling to accept just how prevalent the practice of hiring manual scavengers continues to be.
Delhi’s social welfare minister Rajendra Pal Gautam admitted to the Indian Express that this survey too may not accurately represent the true numbers. The numbers “appear on the lower side” and are concentrated only in two districts, east and northeast, Gautam said. But despite the low numbers, the survey confirms that the authorities’ previous assertions on the outlawed profession not existing in the city were false.
Last year, the MCDs had claimed that no manual scavenging exists in Delhi. When Gautam announced the survey, he said the MCDs’ claim was “clearly false” and the results of the survey would help the government tackle the issue.
District magistrates of the 11 revenue districts in Delhi were responsible for the survey, Gautam has said.
“We created zonal vigilance committees, headed by district magistrates as chairpersons. They were issued directions to undertake the counting exercise. The Supreme Court had directed previous governments to do so, but nothing was done,” Gautam told Indian Express. “So, we ordered a fresh survey. I agree that that the numbers appear low. The highest concentration was found in the northeast district, with around 27 manual scavengers, while the rest is in the east. They are all private workers, who mostly work for contractors. The other districts threw up zero count. The numbers in Delhi are not huge, but they should increase a little from what the survey found.”
According to the minister, the Delhi government will provide training to the 32 workers, showing them how to use machines and equipment for cleaning sewers and tanks mechanically. A scheme to provide 200 sanitation workers with loans to buy such machines is also planned, he said.
However, whether mechanisation truly addresses the stigma associated with caste-based sanitation work has been questioned in the past.
Delhi isn’t the only state or UT in the country to under-report the number of manual scavengers. The Central government is also currently conducting a survey to count manual scavengers in 170 districts of 18 states, because previous surveys have failed to correctly identify the magnitude of the issue.
#Grit is an initiative of The Wire dedicated to the coverage of manual scavenging and sanitation and their linkages with caste, gender, policy and apathy. The Manual Scavenging Project is the first in a series of deep dive editorial projects.