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Manual scavenging remains Karnataka's stinking truth

There are 7,493 manual scavengers in Karnataka
Last Updated : 17 April 2023, 05:38 IST

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"I couldn’t go home for six months due to my skin disease. My family refused to accept me until I completely recovered,” says 55-year-old Nataraj (name changed), a Safai Karmachari who used to serve as a manual scavenger. He stopped working after he suffered a stroke a year ago.

“Most of us suffer from other health issues, too,” he says.

There are 7,493 manual scavengers in Karnataka, the highest (1,625) being in the BBMP area as per the latest report of a survey approved by the state-level survey committee recently.

Also Read | Manual scavenging claimed 90 lives in Karnataka since 2020, says report

“This is the reality even though manual scavenging is banned,” says M Shivanna, chairman of the state Safai Karmachari Commission.

The employment of manual scavengers is prevented as per the ‘Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013’.

Various surveys conducted across Karnataka identified 1,968 manual scavengers in 2020; 4,807 in 2018 (including 1,424 in BBMP area, 1,381 in Mysuru district and 985 in Kolar). In 2016, the figure was 417 while it was 301 (including 201 in BBMP area) in 2013.

“As many as 92 people died during manual scavenging since 1993, including 40 in Bengaluru Urban, nine in Dharwad, six in Mysuru and five in Kolar. In the past two years, 10 deaths were reported, including two in Davangere recently. Cases were booked against those responsible for the deaths. There was conviction in some cases,” Shivanna says.

Discrimination

The commission still receives complaints of discrimination about Safai Karmacharis not being allowed to enter some offices.

“Although there are several provisions for their rehabilitation, we are coming up with a proper action plan to rehabilitate the workers through the Safai Karmachari Development Corporation,” Shivanna adds.

Nagaraj (name changed), another Safai Karmachari used as a manual scavenger, says, “The local bodies have invested in desilting, jetting and cesspool machines to clear underground drainage blocks, stop manhole outflow and so on. But we are used as manual scavengers when complaints spike during the rainy season or when machines can’t be used in narrow lanes. Most of us are not provided hand gloves and safety jackets while entering a manhole or a safety tank.”

Choranahall Shivanna, state convenor of Dalit Sangharsha Samithi, says surveys have failed to identify all the Safai Karmacharis used as manual scavengers. The general public tends to employ them by paying a lesser fee since private agencies that use the latest technology charge higher amounts. “We celebrated the 132nd birth anniversary of B R Ambedkar on April 15, but his concept of equality for all is still a distant dream for some people from SC/ST communities.”

“The government should make honest efforts to rehabilitate them by providing them alternative employment. Safai Karmacharis should be given proper safety equipment. There are enough laws to prevent this inhuman practice, but there should also be strong action against people who resort to this,” he says.

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Published 16 April 2023, 19:32 IST

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