The national capital, which recorded over a dozen sewer deaths in the recent past, has “32 manual scavengers”, according to a Delhi government survey, which, for the first time, has acknowledged the existence of the outlawed practice in the city.
Delhi Social Welfare Minister Rajendra Pal Gautam admitted that the survey may not have accurately captured the prevalence of the practice, as the numbers “appear on the lower side” and are concentrated only in two districts — east and northeast.
However, the latest survey effectively invalidates successive reports by authorities, including the municipal corporations, which claimed that the capital does not have manual scavengers. Last September, the three MCDs had submitted a report in the Delhi High Court claiming they do not employ manual scavengers.
The count was undertaken through the district magistrates of the 11 revenue districts of the city, Gautam told The Indian Express. Apart from east and northeast, the other districts filed reports saying they could not find the presence of manual scavenging in their respective jurisdictions.
“We created zonal vigilance committees, headed by district magistrates as chairpersons. They were issued directions to undertake the counting exercise. The Supreme Court had directed previous governments to do so, but nothing was done,” said Gautam.
“So, we ordered a fresh survey. I agree that that the numbers appear low. The highest concentration was found in the northeast district, with around 27 manual scavengers, while the rest is in the east. They are all private workers, who mostly work for contractors. The other districts threw up zero count. The numbers in Delhi are not huge, but they should increase a little from what the survey found,” he added.
The ‘Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013’ — which brought cleaning of sewers and septic tanks, apart from manual handling of excreta, under the ambit of banned practices — mandates a survey of manual scavengers, if any municipality or panchayat has reason to believe that some persons are engaged in the practise within its jurisdiction.
While Delhi’s count may seem like an underestimation, figures from bigger states such as Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh report equal or lesser numbers than Delhi — at 3 and 36 respectively.
On July 31, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment informed the Lok Sabha that 13 states (see box) have identified 13,657 manual scavengers up to June 30, 2018. Delhi is not on the list.
The Centre has also undertaken a ‘National Survey of Manual Scavengers’ in 170 districts of 18 states to identify all those who were cleaning insanitary latrines prior to their conversion to sanitary latrines under the NDA government’s flagship Swachh Bharat Mission.
“The process… has been completed in 155 of the 170 identified districts. In some states like Karnataka and West Bengal, the survey could not be undertaken as scheduled. On the basis of this survey, 14,678 manual scavengers have been identified up to 23.7.2018,” said the ministry.
Gautam said from August 24, the Delhi government will provide training to the 32 identified workers to handle machines and equipment for mechanical cleaning of sewers and tanks. A scheme will also be launched on October 2 to provide loans to 200 sanitation workers to help them buy sewer cleaning machines, he added.