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Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Dying In Manhole

At least two to three workers must be dying every day inside manholes across India .

In most developed countries, manhole workers are provided bunny suits and respiratory apparatus. In Hong Kong, a sewer worker needs to have 15 licences in order to enter a manhole. In India, conservancy workers – mostly from the balmiki subcaste of dalits -- go in almost naked. The mortality rate amongst them is a
According to a 2002 report prepared by the International Dalit Solidarity Network -- which includes Human Rights Watch (United States), Navsarjan Trust (Ahmedabad, Gujarat), and the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights, the government estimates that there are 1 million dalit manual scavengers in India.ppallingly high.
At the very least, 22,327 Dalits die every year cleaning sewage.
Human beings shrink from any contact with faecal matter. We are paranoid about stepping on shit even accidentally, with our shoes on. If it does happen, we rush to wash the offending substance off the soles of our shoes. Can we even begin to comprehend the experience that thousands of balmiki men go through every day of their lives?
There are no sewerage facilities in rural areas, Urban Slums are also not touched by proper sewerage facilities .Still workers manually clean the septic tanks, “these septic tanks are becoming death tanks for the workers”.  It is full of many poisonous and dangerous gases, many people are died by inhaling poisonous gases and many of them going to die if we would not stop this Dehumanising Practices.Many of them are the sole bread winners of their families .These dependents were force by social and economic conditions to come into these practices to feed their families. Most of the Manual Scavengers belongs to SC & ST, last year MHA (Ministry Of Home Affairs) told to all states that engaging or employing a member in SC or ST in manual scavenging fall within the ambit of SC & ST prevention of Atrocities Act, but there is no record of any one being convicted under this Act.There are poor Sanitation Facilities in these places. People are still using dry latrines which encourage Manual Scavenging. We have to stop the dry latrines practices and help them in making Proper Sanitation Facilities.

A manhole is a confined, oxygen-deficient space where the presence of noxious gases can cause syncope -- a sudden and transient loss of consciousness owing to brief cessation of cerebral blood flow. The brain cannot tolerate even a brief deprivation of oxygen. The long-term neurological effects of syncope can be debilitating.”In most developed countries, manhole workers are protected by bunny suits to avoid contact with the contaminated water. They also sport respiratory apparatus. The sewers are well lit, mechanically aerated with huge fans and therefore not so oxygen-deficient. In Hong Kong, a sewer worker, after adequate training, needs to have at least 15 licences and permits in order to enter a manhole. In India, our sanitation workers go in almost naked, wearing just a lungot (loincloth) or briefs. In Delhi, in accordance with the directives of the National Human Rights Commission in October 2002, most permanent workers of the DJB wear a ‘safety belt’. This belt that connects workers in the manhole, via thick ropes, to men standing outside offers no protection against the gases and sharp objects that assault them. It’s a cruel joke; at best it helps haul them out should they lose consciousness or die inside the hole. The CEC study of 200 DJB manhole workers found that 92.5% of workers wore the safety belt. But this did not prevent 91.5% of them suffering injuries, and 80% suffering eye infections.
Manual scavengers are exposed to the most virulent forms of viral and bacterial infections that affect the skin, eyes, limbs, respiratory and gastro-intestinal systems. Reports show that tuberculosis is rife among the community.Most men in the community die young; indeed, the average lifespan of a sanitation worker is 45 years. The civic body does not offer any monetary compensation to these workers for illness or death due to occupational risks, unless the worker actually dies inside a manhole, In Delhi, permanent workers get a monthly ‘risk allowance’ of Rs 50. In some states, the figure rises to Rs 200.

“We pervert reason when we humiliate life … man stopped respecting himself when he lost the respect due to his fellow-creatures.”— José Saramago
Sewage travels across Delhi’s 5,600- kilometre sewer lines at the speed of one metre per second. That is a rather leisurely pace of 3.6 km per hour — the time an obese person may take to complete one round of Lodi Gardens. Along this river of filth — the Ganga is just half this length — there are 1.5 lakh manholes servicing the effluents released by the capital’s 15 million people. Much of this ‘infrastructure’ was designed more than a 100 years ago. According to an estimate I made in 2007, at least 22,327 men and women die in India every year doing various kinds of sanitation work. Figures are hard to come by since this concerns the deaths of a section of population that most of India refuses to see. Santosh Choudhary, then chairperson of the National Commission for Safai Karamcharis, had told me in 2007 that at least “two to three workers must be dying every day inside manholes across India.”
On the morning of March 27, Bezwada Wilson of the Safai Karmachari Andolan (SKA) sent a message to his well-wishers about the impending ruling of the Supreme Court in a Public Interest Litigation that had dragged on for 12 years. All that SKA had been seeking was the enforcement of fundamental rights guaranteed in the Constitution under Articles 14 (Right to Equality), 17 (Abolition of untouchability), 21 (Protection of life and personal liberty) and 47 (Duty of the State to raise the level of nutrition and the standard of living and to improve public health).
Judgment with a caveat
THE WORLD BENEATH: At least two to three workers must be dying every day inside manholes across India. Picture shows a worker entering a manhole in Chennai. Photo: B. Jothi RamalingamLater in the day, the three-judge Supreme Court Bench headed by the Chief Justice, P. Sathasivam, issued directions to the state, the railways, and several organisations to implement the provisions of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 — itself a result of SKA’s relentless efforts. While everyone congratulated Mr. Wilson and the SKA team, a part of me froze at the sight of a certain clause in the judgment.
After ruling that “entering sewer lines without safety gears should be made a crime even in emergency situations,” the Bench added a caveat: “For each such death, compensation of Rs. 10 lakhs should be given to the family of the deceased.”
This, in effect, is like saying these deaths — rather murders — will continue to happen. They are inevitable. They are murders, for we know that each time a person enters these oxygen-deficient dungeons that spew a mixture of hydrogen sulphide, methane, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide, there’s a good possibility he will die. Yet, the highest court of the land condoned these murders by merely offering compensation. Given that sewer workers anyway are considered socially dead because of their occupation, their legal death is just a matter of record. What kind of ‘safety gear’ can ensure that a person socially survives such an ordeal? Can there be a just way of being unjust? We reason with ourselves to accept the perversion of reason.
Law apparently has an answer for such a conundrum, derived from the Latin maxim: quod feri non debuit factum valet, also known as factum valet. “What ought not have been done is valid once it is done.” Dayabhaga, the 12th century brahmanic law that was prevalent in the eastern parts of the subcontinent, echoes this maxim when its says, “A fact cannot be altered by a hundred texts.” Ideally, don’t send a man into a sewer, but if you have to send him, make sure he wears safety gear. And if he dies after that, give his family 10 lakh rupees. If he refuses to wear safety gear that weighs 18 kilos and gum boots that gnaw at his toes, that’s his problem. Ideally, sati or child marriage should not be committed, but when it happens, we can always have eminent social scientists tell us why we need to understand the difference between pratha (custom) and ghatana (event).
No change on the ground
What is the point of laws, and judgements to back these laws, when the situation on the ground or rather beneath the ground has not changed? Urban India is serviced by four-inch house drains that empty into nine-inch trunk sewers that carry the slush to bigger lines of 2-metres to 3-metres in diameter. These make it necessary for a human being to be lowered into a drain. A clog demands at least three entries into a manhole: to fix the cleansing rod, to make it work, and to detach it.
In 2002, the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission envisaged spending Rs. 1,20,536 crore over seven years on urban local bodies. Of this, 40 per cent was allotted for drainage and sewerage work. Thousands of crores have been likely spent on laying or relaying pipes and drains designed to kill. Phases 1 and 2 of Delhi’s metro cost Rs. 30,000 crore. While the metro works, the sewage system continues to foul the air all around us.
Meanwhile, each sewer worker’s death will cause something to die in us. A million rupees is a very small price we are agreeing to pay to stop respecting ourselves.

Edited By : Sonika 

Source:     http://infochangeindia.org/livelihoods/sidelines/dying-for-a-living.html
                : the hindu 

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