57 manual scavenging deaths in state, not a single conviction

Jail guilty in one case and tragedies will stop: activists

57 manual scavenging deaths in state, not a single conviction

Of 57 manual scavenging deaths recorded in the state since 2008, not even one has resulted in conviction, legal experts and activists say.

“Police have closed most cases,” Narasimhamurthy, activist and advocate, told DH. About half the deaths occurred in Bengaluru.

Three men choked to death in a manhole in Bengaluru on Tuesday, taking the toll up to 60. Police have booked a case under Section 304 of the Indian Penal Code, dealing with culpable homicide not amounting to murder. This attracts a jail term of up to 10 years.

Manual scavenging deaths are booked as accidental, and the criminality of the contractors is never established, said Bezwada Wilson, honoured with the Magsaysay award for espousing the cause of sanitary workers.

In the latest case, the police have listed a BWSSB engineer as the first accused, a BBMP engineer as the second, and a contractor the third. Their names do not figure in the FIR.

All 57 earlier deaths were registered under Section 304-A, which deals with accidental deaths due to negligence, and attracts a fine or jail term of up to two years. The present case, under Section 304, is a minuscule victory as it is more stringent, activists said.

The police have also sought court permission to invoke a provision under the law against manual scavenging.

In cases of this nature, the state should appoint special public prosecutors, ensure impartial investigation, and protect witnesses and victims’ families, said Clifton D Rozario, member of the BWSSB Contract Workers Union.

“Cases like Nirbhaya have gone straight into conviction because the government worked in a multi-pronged manner. Why are cases of manual scavenging not seen in that light?” Rozario said.

Wilson says the government must step in and pursue such cases.

The FIR for Tuesday’s case names a citizen who reported the incident, and not the state, as the complainant.

“The culpability falls on government department heads and they must go to jail. When there is no prosecution and no punishment, the killing will go on,” he said.

A regret among sanitary workers and activists is that the government isn’t enforcing the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers  Act of 2013.

“If they have respect for Parliament and democracy, they must stop killing us in the sewer line,” Bezwada Wilson, who campaigns against manual scavenging, said.

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