Manual scavenging is illegal in India. However, many continue to lose their lives, forced as they are into the practice by society and the state.
In Kerala, however, technology may soon replace human beings who are forced to clean manholes.
On Monday, the Kerala Chief Minister officially inaugurated Bandicoot, a robot that has been developed to clean manholes and sewage lines. The robotic technology has been developed by GenRobotics, a start-up based in Thiruvananthapuram. Kerala Water Authority had signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Kerala Start-Up Mission, to convert the innovation into a reality.
Addressing the gathering, CM Pinarayi Vijayan said that the technology will help in stopping people from entering the manholes to clean them up. Asserting that forcing humans to clean manholes is an inhuman activity, the CM said, "This is the beginning of something entirely new. As far as Kerala Water Authority is concerned, this is a proud moment. With this, KWA is also entering a new territory, with the use of technology."
He added that Bandicoot was a model for other states.
In his speech, Pinarayi Vijayan spoke about Naushad, an auto driver from Kozhikode, who died when he entered a manhole to save two manual scavengers. Recounting the incident, the CM said that such instances have inspired the makers to develop Bandicoot.
Earlier speaking to TNM, Vimal, a co-founder of the company, had said that manhole deaths in Kerala and Bengaluru had moved them enough to come up with such a technique. The CM also lauded the social commitment of GenRobotics in building such a product to eradicate a social evil.
Bandicoot is a four-legged spider-shaped robot that cleans manholes and attaches equipment that can clean sewage lines. The company intends to take the "man" out of manhole and change it into "robe-hole."
Bandicoot first removes the manhole cover via a permanent magnetic system, and then climbs down the manhole. Once inside, it expands into its full size and collects the waste. After this, it comes out of the hole and releases the waste.
In its first phase, Bandicoot will be used in Thiruvananthapuram.