A total of 110 people died in 2019 while cleaning sewers and septic tanks, Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment Ramdas Athawale told the Lok Sabha on Tuesday. This is an almost 62% increase from the number of deaths reported in 2018, which stood at 68.
The minister’s response showed that the number of deaths has been growing since 2013, except for in 2018, when the number of deaths witnessed a dip. In 2013, there were 57 deaths, in 2016 there were 48 deaths, in 2017 there were 93 deaths, in 2018 there were 68 deaths and in 2019 there were 110 deaths, the minister’s written response to the Lok Sabha said.
The minister was responding to a question posted by BJP MPs Anil Firojiya, Mohanbhai Kalyanji Kundariya and Lallu Singh late last year on whether the target for eradicating manual scavenging was likely to be achieved by 2019 or whether it would be carried forward. The five-part question also sought to know whether the incidents of manual scavenging have declined and what steps the government has taken to ensure the prohibition of people being employed in manual scavenging as per law.
At 21 deaths, Uttar Pradesh topped the list of deaths due to manual scavenging in 2019, followed by Maharashtra (17), Gujarat (16), Tamil Nadu (15) and Haryana (14).
The government also stated that from December 5, 2013, to January 31, 2020, a total of 62,904 manual scavengers have been identified.
“14,559 manual scavengers have been identified by 13 states from 2013-14 to 31.01.2020. In addition, a National Survey has also been carried out in 194 districts of 18 states identified on the basis of unsanitary latrines, converted into sanitary latrines under Swachh Bharat Mission. 48,545 manual scavengers have been identified under the National Survey upto 31.01.2020, Thus, a total 62,904 manual scavengers have been identified since 06.12.2013 upto 31.01.2020,” Ramdas Athawale said in his response.
The persons who were engaged in manual scavenging have been identified for their rehabilitation, the reply added. The main reason for manual scavenging is the existence of insanitary latrines which require manual cleaning. Under the government's Swachh Bharat Mission, the insanitary latrines have been identified and were being converted to eliminate the need for manual cleaning, the reply said.
Last month in Karnataka, a 17-year-old boy, Siddappa, died of asphyxiation after he was made to enter a sewage chamber on Infantry Road in Bengaluru. Fifty-year-old Marianna, who went in to rescue Siddappa, also died days later. On November 12, 2019, a 25-year-old man in Tamil Nadu died at the Express Avenue Mall after he entered a septic tank within the premises to rescue his brother. He was part of a crew of manual scavengers employed by a private agency to carry out this illegal work. The crew later told TNM that they were asked to wear masks and protective gear for a photograph but was asked to remove it before entering the tank.