Know the law before you call someone to clean your sewage lines and septic tanks

And if you break the law, you can end up in jail
Know the law before you call someone to clean your sewage lines and septic tanks
Know the law before you call someone to clean your sewage lines and septic tanks

On Sunday, residents of an apartment in a posh Bengaluru locality engaged three Bengaluru men to clean a manhole, despite manual scavenging being banned in India. The three men, who climbed down the manhole, died soon after possibly due to asphyxia.   

An FIR has been registered under IPC section 304A (causing death by negligence) read with section 34 (Acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention) against the association members of ND Sepal Apartments in Somasundra Palya in HSR Layoout.

This is the second such instance where members of an apartment association have been booked for causing death due to negligence. In 2016, in a hauntingly similar incident, three men died after being engaged by a contractor to repair a motor and clean a blocked sewage treatment plant of an apartment.

The case came as a shock for the residents, most of them software engineers, who had never had a brush with the law.

The residents simply called the contractor, who arranged for the work to be done by manual scavengers. But ignorance of the law while common, does not absolve people of the crime.

What you should know while calling someone to clean a septic tank or sewage line

If something goes wrong with the sewage line or the septic tank, inform the concerned authorities like the BWSSB in Bengaluru, CMWSSB in Chennai or HMWSSB in Hyderabad. They will direct you to specific contractors allotted to each area.

Do not engage private cleaners.

Even if an approved contractor brings labourers, you need to ensure that only machines are used and not humans. “My shit, I am paying someone else to clean it” is a wrong logic. The Rules under the Employment as Manual Scavengers Act and their Rehabilitation Act 2013 mandates that no person shall be allowed to clean manually and lays down the obligations of the employer towards employees engaged in cleaning of sewers or septic tanks.

Any physical contact with excreta is banned and always remember that.  Manual scavenging is the act of manually cleaning, carrying, disposing of, or handling human excreta in any manner in an insanitary latrine or in an open drain or pit into which the human excreta from the insanitary latrines is disposed of. Thus, any act of making a person coming into physical contact with human excreta is banned and rightly so.

Sucking and jetting machines will be used to clean, even then it is your responsibility to ensure that the labourers are wearing safety gear. You are the employer and you are responsible if something goes wrong. The Bengaluru apartment also has a case of negligence against them as the workers did not have gear.

Under the Act, protective equipment such as gumboots, gloves, masks, soap and a disinfectant like Dettol is to be given every month to the workers.  

If the workers, do not have these equipment, do not let them engage, call the contractor.

There is a serious problem as most areas do not have sanitary connections, hence they resort to septic tanks. Any act of manual cleaning the septic tanks too comes within the prohibition of the Act.

If submersible pump sets are to be removed as the case in Bangalore, firstly permission would have to be sought from the Commissioner of the Urban Local Body and all protective gear and safety devices would have to be provided.

The law severely restricts the entry into manholes or septic tanks and only permits the same in extreme circumstances with the prior permission of the Commissioner and on using protective gear and safety devices.

This is termed as “hazardous cleaning” and is a RARE exception.

What happens if you break the law?

Failure to comply with this law has very serious consequences and any person who engages such workers, either directly or indirectly, would be punishable with imprisonment upto two years or fine or both.

Outside of the law though this is a practice that cannot but be deprecated and disallowed. In a country with a Constitution which bestows equality on all citizens, compelling persons to manually clean one’s shit is just downright unacceptable.

Compiled with the help of Clifton D'Rosario, President of BBMP Contract Pourakarmika Association

This copy has been updated and was first published in 2016. 

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