Law, government and society, just can’t gather the will to find another solution.

Man climbs into sewage-filled manhole but its Thiruvananthapuram that should feel dirtyPhoto- R Kiran Babu, Kerala Kaumudi
news Manual Scavenging Sunday, July 02, 2017 - 17:58

It was a shameful sight that Kerala’s capital city witnessed on Friday. A man was made to enter a manhole filled with toilet waste at West Fort, one of the busiest locations in the city. He was spotted by a journalist as he struggled to keep his head above the manhole overflowing with sewage.

Satheesan, a temporary worker employed by a contract agency had to enter a manhole to clean it. Satheesan was called in as a replacement since another worker engaged to clean the manhole by the sewerage unit working under the Kerala Water Authority had not turned up.

Despite an Act prohibiting manual scavenging, in force since 2013, the sewerage unit still signs contracts with agencies for cleaning manholes. These contracts are renewed every year. And every time it is exposed that a human being was sent inside a manhole, the unit invariably blames the contractors or unavoidable situations.

When we asked the sewerage unit, they blamed the erratic disposal of solid waste into the drainage system for forcing them to make a man enter the manhole.

“We rarely opt for manual scavenging. Normally sewer cleaning rods are used to clean manholes. But when solid waste including plastic, clothes and napkins chokes the manhole, it is tough to clear the block. People throw all kinds of waste in drainage. At West Fort, the worker first tried to clean the manhole with a rod. When the rod hit a block he had to enter into the manhole manually to remove waste,” an official of the sewerage unit said.

Officials say they are helpless in many situations, caught in the vicious cycle. The public, hotels and other establishments throw waste into public drains, clogging the drainage system.

Officials claim that on narrow roads and by-roads, it is tough to use sewer rods and water jetting machines.  Though officials claim that workers are given safety jackets, belts and all kind of measures, this is hardly implemented. At West Fort too, the man was not wearing any safety gear.

The officials also blame the old drainage system in the city, which was developed as early as 1945.

“It is high time that the system is replaced. Also the Corporation’s drainage network covers only 40% of places in the city. In other places, people illegally divert the drainage around their houses to the public drainage system, which in turn results in overflowing of manholes. During the monsoon, the situation becomes worse,” an official said.

The sewerage unit has eight water jetting machines and sewer rods to clean manholes in the city and the cleaning work has been allotted to three contractors. They now claim that it has been decided to purchase smaller machines to work on narrow lanes and by-roads.

“We have decided to procure new machines. But it needs to be seen how effectively these will work. It all depends on the water holding capacity,” said Assistant Executive Engineer Krishnakumar VS.

And so promises of new machines continue to be made. Justifications of emergencies and helplessness continue to be offered on the part of officials. And in Thiruvananthapuram, HyderabadBengaluruChennai and elsewhere, men are sent into holes overflowing with sewage and excrement, sometimes to die. And law, government and society, just can’t gather the will to find another solution.

Photo- R Kiran Babu, Kerala Kaumudi

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