This data, although startling, is, by NCSK’S own admission, a gross underestimate since it includes figures for only eight states — Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Delhi, Punjab, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu — out of 36 states and Union Territories.
Union Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment Thaawarchand Gehlot’s comments came against the backdrop of the deaths of several people involved in cleaning of sewers and septic tanks in many states.
The court had ordered the state to submit a detailed report about the existence of manual scavenging and the employment of manual scavengers by various municipalities and municipal corporations in the state in violation of the Act that prohibits the practice.
Contractors offer a few extra bucks, desperate labourers get into dark holes to clean sewage and suffocate to death. The instances brutally repeats as law violators function with impunity. Families struggle to come to terms with the loss as govt compensation offers some relief.
The 2013 Act did not provide sufficient provisions to prohibit employment as manual scavengers or to rehabilitate those who have been involved in this work, primarily a caste-based occupation, involving the Valmiki community for generations.
For families of men who died cleaning the capital’s sewers, the Delhi Jal Board’s mechanised machines offer a chance to make a living without putting lives on the line. The Indian Express speaks to a family that received one such machine, and the men who operate it, to understand what it means to them.
“We don’t want to do this, but we have to feed our families. Every once in a while, a minister comes and tells us that it is because of us that the city is not flooding. That gives us a sense of accomplishment,” said Vijay Kumar (35), as he breaks for lunch.