Despite new machines, manual scavenging continues unhindered in Chennai
Despite new machines, manual scavenging continues unhindered in Chennai

Despite new machines, manual scavenging continues unhindered in Chennai

Manual scavenging is a non-bailable offence

On December 30, Chennai based activist Narayanan was passing through West KK Nagar when he saw what he has been fighting against for years now. Despite the apex court verdict banning it, he saw contract workers immersing themselves into raw sewage to remove construction debris and other materials blocking the sewerage lines. Though the super-sucker machine were hired and an Assistant Engineer was supervising the clean up, the manual scavenging was happening unhindered.

In spite of spending several crore rupees on super sucker machines and jet-rodding machines, there is still a need for human intervention to clear the debris for the machinery to suck the sewage. Watch the video here.

Director of CHANGE of India, Narayanan, who witnessed the violation of human rights, has been working towards efforts to provide better working conditions for the sanitary workers.

''Manual scavenging is a non-bailable offence but unfortunately, the rapidly urbanizing Tamil Nadu is not following this act. In-spite of getting repeated warnings by the Supreme Court and High Court, the offence still thrives in the state,” says Narayanan.

Sanitary workers in urban cities are known to work in such conditions but the situation in Chennai is far worse, say activists. Poor and rather dangerous work environment prevail for sanitary workers in Chennai in spite of costly and heavy sewage disposal machinery, as the super-sucker machine could not match human efficiency and agility.

''The main cause behind this could be the dilapidated condition of underground drainage lines and the endless number of man holes in Chennai and the recent floods made it worse,” he adds.

The 'Clean India' campaign of Modi Government has also brought trouble for the sanitation workers in the country, he says.

The 'Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrine(Prohibition) Act' was enacted in 1993 and was enforced in 1997. Later a new Legislation called the 'Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Bill 2012' enacted by Parliament and despite its shortcomings has encouraged widespread discussions to provide dignity to a community entrenched in exploitation. This law focuses on the identification of manual scavengers through survey committees and rehabilitation measures for them.

Lack of proper safeguards however has put these workers at risk of infection, which are occasionally fatal. Sanitary workers are also more prone to diseases and infections like dengue, worm manifestations, malaria and other skin conditions.

''No effort is being taken to provide minimum safety precautions to the workers. No standard operating procedure is being followed and no training has been provided to the workers'', Narayanan said. It proves that investing in machines does not offer a solution, strict implementation of legislation and change in mindset is the only solution for this problem, he adds.

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