Close to 60 manual scavengers, along with 27 family members of those who died after inhaling toxic fumes while cleaning sewers in Delhi, are among 200 people who have applied for Delhi government-assisted loans to buy automatic sewer cleaning machines over the past two months.
In August, the Delhi government had announced that it would help secure loans for people to buy sewer-cleaning machines. It has also issued work orders to ensure that those who buy the machines will be given enough work to help pay off the loans. “When we formed the policy, we came up with a list of categories of who would be given preference to get help from the government. The first preference was for manual scavengers, followed by family members of those who have died while cleaning sewers. Next up are people from the SC community and, finally, the general population. We received only around 10-12 applications from the general population,” said Delhi Jal Board (DJB) vice-chairperson Dinesh Mohaniya.
Officials said one machine will be operated by three people, and each person will be provided safety kits. “The kits contain gloves, boots and masks along with a protective, anti-microbial uniform designed by HAL. With the machine in their possession, no one will have to enter a sewer,” Mohaniya said.
While the DJB already has a few “super-sucker machines”, which push a pressurised stream of water into the sewer to dislodge any block, these cannot enter sewers located in narrow streets. The new machines, however, are around six-feet-wide and will ensure all streets and lanes are covered. “If a car can enter the lane, these machines will be able to as well,” Mohaniya added.
Officials said orders for the machines have been placed and manufacturing is underway. “We are hoping that the first set of machines will be delivered by the first week of December,” an official said.
Over the past two years, 22 people have died in the city while cleaning sewers, septic tanks and rainwater harvesting pits.