New Delhi: Data collected by the National Commission for Safai Karamcharis (NCSK) show that since the beginning of 2017, on average one person dies every five days while cleaning sewers and septic tanks.
According to the Indian Express, the NCSK, a statutory body set up by an Act of parliament, collected this data based on newspaper reports and numbers provided by a few state governments. This is the first official attempt to try and set up a record of manual scavengers’ deaths.
A total of 123 people have lost their live while cleaning sewers and septic tanks since January 1, 2017, according to the NCSK.
In the last week one week, as many as six manual scavengers have lost their lives in the National Capital Region alone – five in one incident and one in another. Another five manual scavengers’ deaths were reported from Chhattisgarh.
Of the 28 states and seven union territories, the NCSK data has reported deaths from only 13 states and UTs, the Indian Express has reported.
“The death count is based on figures we could collate from a few states and mostly English and Hindi newspapers. There might have been several instances of similar stories in regional language papers which were weren’t able to account for,” an official involved in the exercise told the newspaper.
There is no reliable official data in India on the number of people involved in the caste-based degrading and dangerous profession of manual scavenging. While employing manual scavengers was outlawed by the The Prohibition of Employment of Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Act 2013, the government then recognised only 12,742 manual scavengers in 13 states. The government’s own statistics prove that this was a gross under-calculation. According to Census of India 2011, there are 740,078 households across the country where human excreta is removed by a person from a dry latrine. On top of this, there are also septic tanks, sewers, railway platforms from where human excreta is cleaned by people. In addition, the Socio-Economic Caste Census 2011 said that there are 182,505 families in rural India engaged in manual scavenging.
In January 2018, the government has begun a fresh process to try and count the number of manual scavengers in India, so that rehabilitation measures can be planned. This time, the government has taken the help of NGOs and civil society groups that work in the are. Already, the number of manual scavengers counted is four times higher than the last survey that was conducted.
“We have repeatedly asked states to identity those involved in these jobs but the states deny the existence of manual scavenging as the practice is banned under law. As a result, in many cases, the families of the dead don’t even get the compensation,” NCSK chairperson Manhar Valjibhai Zala told Indian Express. The Rs 10 lakh compensation that is mandated by law in case of manual scavenging deaths has been paid in only 70 of the 123 cases counted, according to the NCSK’s data.
“Their deaths are under-counted and so are their lives. Even the National Crime Records Bureau was agreeable to our suggestion that they should document the deaths separately. But nothing has happened on the front, either,” Bezwada Wilson of the National Safai Karamchari Andolan told Indian Express. “The Social Justice Ministry, which is in charge of this subject, mostly deals with the issue of compensation post deaths and rehabilitation of the handful identified as doing this job. Ministries such as Housing and Urban Affairs should be looking into the complete mechanisation of sewage cleaning, which is the only way to eliminate the practice of getting people to clean it manually. But they have never taken responsibility for the deaths.”