STPs new killing fields for manual scavengers

Scores of private sewage treatment plants and single pit toilets built under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan are the new killing fields for manual scavengers, a roundtable discussion at the National Law School of India University proclaimed on Saturday. 

At the roundtable discussion held by the NLSIU’s Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion, manual scavengers and members of the Karnataka State Safai Karmachari Kavalu Samiti (KSSKKS) narrated how the inhuman practice is taking a toll on their lives. 

K B Obalesh, state convenor, KSSKKS, said most sewage treatments in Bengaluru were illegal and there were no rules in place about their cleaning and maintenance. “There have been instances of manual scavengers dying due to sheer negligence of STP owners,” he said. “The lakhs of single pit toilets built under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan are no different for manual scavengers who have to clean them with bare hands.” 

Citing government data, the KSSKKS said there were 202 manual scavengers in Bengaluru Urban alone and all of them had been rehabilitated through various programmes. Representatives of the Tala Samudaya Research Centre stressed the need for carrying out a comprehensive survey with adequate publicity to identify manual scavengers in the state. “We are conducting a survey and have already identified more than 30,000 manual scavengers. We don’t know what was the basis of this government survey,” a member of the research centre told DH

Data provided at the meeting showed there are at least 25,000 sewage plants in Bengaluru alone. At least 78 manual scavengers have died while at work in Karnataka since 2008; six of them died while cleaning STPs. 

Dr Nataraj, treasurer, KSSKKS, lamented that nobody had ever been punished for causing manual scavenging deaths. “Though 24 cases were registered over manual scavenging, there has not been a single conviction. Police are also negligent as they open a case under IPC Section 304, which refers to deaths caused by negligence.

They are not aware of the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act," he added. 

Thirteen out of the 24 cases resulted in fatalities, claiming 28 lives. 

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