Between 1993 and 2023, according to government data, there have been a shocking 1,081 reported deaths due to manual scavenging across the country. Tamil Nadu, with 225 fatalities, stands out as the state with the highest number of such deaths.
Persistent Practice Despite Ban
Despite the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act implemented in 1993, the practice of manual scavenging persists in India. Recent incidents in Tamil Nadu highlight the gravity of the issue, raising concerns about the lack of effective measures to prevent such tragedies.
Tragic Incident at Emmanuel Higher Secondary School
On May 1st, International Labour Day, two workers, Govindan and Subharayalu, lost their lives while performing manual scavenging at Emmanuel Higher Secondary School in Minjur, Tiruvallur district, near Chennai. These laborers, without proper safety gear, entered a septic tank on the insistence of their contractor. Unfortunately, they inhaled poisonous gases inside the tank, leading to their unconsciousness and eventual collapse.
Lack of Awareness and Modernization
One of the main reasons behind the continuing practice of manual scavenging is the lack of awareness, particularly among private companies and residential complexes. The absence of extensive efforts to raise awareness since the 1993 ban has hindered the reduction of this hazardous practice.
Ignored Legislation and Need for Robotic Alternatives
The 2013 Manual Scavenging Act, which aims to stop employment in manual scavenging and provide rehabilitation for scavengers and their families, has not been adequately promoted and implemented. Additionally, the lack of mechanized methods in residential complexes and firms due to insufficient awareness has perpetuated the reliance on manual scavengers. Experts advocate for the adoption of robotic sewer cleaners as a safer alternative.
Government’s Role in Eradicating Manual Scavenging
To address this crisis, the government needs to take swift and decisive actions. It should replace outsourcing with cooperative organizations, transforming employees into employers and providing better working conditions. Implementing the Direct Payment System (DPS) for contractual labor can ensure timely and fair compensation. Furthermore, the government must focus on popularizing robotic scavenging machines and establish state-level commissions to safeguard the interests of manual scavengers.
The tragic incidents in Tamil Nadu underscore the urgency to tackle the issue of manual scavenging and prioritize the safety and dignity of workers involved in sanitation work. Adequate awareness, modernization, and effective legislative measures are crucial to ending this dangerous and inhumane practice.
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