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New Delhi: On August 3, two Dalit men — Shiva (25) and Anthaiah (45) — died while manual scavenging in Hyderabad’s LB Nagar. Even after three days, Anthaiah’s body is yet to be found.
According to the News Minute, municipality officials dug up the pipeline, and even searched a nearby lake, hoping to find the body, but all in vain.
Anthaiah’s family – which belongs to the Mala community, categorised as Scheduled Caste – alleged to TNM that the officials were acting indifferently because of their caste identity. His son Nagaraju alleged that the officials are extremely negligent, and they are not making proper efforts to retrieve his father’s body.
“Since they know that we are from a marginalised community, they think that they can behave like this. No official or police have made any effort to reach out to us, to explain the situation and console us,” Nagaraju told TNM. He further told the news website that no official has made any assurance about the compensation.
Manual scavenging is banned under the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013. The amendment of the 1993 law in 2013 provided for punishment for engaging any person for hazardous cleaning of sewers and septic tanks.
“Between 1993 and 2019, families of only around 50% of the workers who have died cleaning sewers have received the compensation of Rs 10 lakh each. In several cases, the compensation amount is less than Rs 10 lakh, ” The Wire had reported, citing a right to information query it had filed. This is despite a 2014 Supreme Court judgement that ordered states and union territories to pay Rs 10 lakh as compensation to the kin of all those who died during sewer cleaning.
According to the TNM report, the two Dalit men died of asphyxiation on Tuesday night when they were made to manually clean a flood pipeline.
Shiva was made to get into the manhole using a ladder, the report said. However, when Shiva started suffocating, the contractor called Anthaiah who was working near another manhole. Anthaiah got down the manhole and was able to push Shiva out, but he too fell sick and collapsed inside.
The contractor, B. Yellaiah, who hired the duo, was booked under sections of under the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 and 304 A (causing death by negligence) of the Indian Penal Code, TNW reported.
Centre’s denial on manual scavenging deaths
Last week, Union Minister of State for Social Justice and Empowerment Ramdas Athawale on July 28 told the parliament no death has been reported due to manual scavenging. Instead, he said that there have been reports of death of persons while cleaning sewers or septic tanks.
It shows that the government does not identify deaths due to manual scavenging and instead calls them deaths due to hazardous cleaning of septic tanks and sewers.
He further told the parliament that despite the strict implementation of the provision of The Prohibition of Manual Scavenging Act 2013, a survey showed that 58,098 persons were identified as manual scavengers. He further added that of these 58,098, all the eligible people have been given one-time cash assistance and released from this work.
The response drew sharp reaction from activists who said that those people were being robbed of dignity even in their deaths.
Bezwada Wilson, the national convener of Safai Karmachari Andolan, an organisation working to eradicate manual scavenging told PTI that the government’s denial on deaths due to manual scavenging is a “modern form of untouchability — ignoring the life of a Dalit”.
Between 2016 and November 2019, 282 people have died while cleaning sewers and septic tanks in the country, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment had told the parliament.
In February, according to a Times of India report, a 37-year-old man, registered as a sweeper with the Maddur town municipality in Karnataka, died by suicide, because he was allegedly forced to clean a manhole.
The news of these deaths show that nothing has changed in recent times.
“These failures manifest themselves first in denial. They [governments and municipalities] refuse to acknowledge disease and death, hence elementary compensation, guaranteed by the earlier Bills, is rarely ever provided to the victim’s family,” said an analytical piece published on The Wire.
The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation (Amendment) Bill, 2020, which proposes to completely mechanise the process of cleaning sewers and septic tanks and provides a legal basis for compensation to be provided for fatalities, awaits cabinet approval. However, according to the analytical piece, the new Bill continues to tread the same flawed path as its previous versions of 1993 and 2013 with little to no effect on providing any help to sanitation workers.