A national conference of sanitation workers under the joint auspices of BMS and Dattopant Thengadi Foundation was held at Delhi on July 2, 2022 under the theme “Severe deaths in India”. It saw the participation of labour representatives, social activists and research students from 11 States.
In his address, Alok Kumar, VHP International Working President said in conference Lack of sensitivity is the root cause of these problems. The problems of sanitation workers have been unresolved for a long time. Once upon a time, there were dry latrines. Some workers used to lift this waste on their heads and throw it away. The government has banned this inhuman practice. But still chocked sewers are being cleaned by humans without any protective gear is seen in many cities.
- The problems of sanitation workers are different compared to the problems of other SCs. The problems of these sanitation workers cannot be solved by the National SC Commission.
- The National Cleanliness Commission should be accorded constitutional recognition and rights.
- Only 7 states have Safai Karmachari Commissions. These commissions should be established in all states.
- Death of Sewer worker in this modern age is an indelible mark on humanity where fellow human beings have to go down into the sewer drain and clean manually. Central and state governments should coordinate mechanization to prevent this.
- In many places, the main reason for these deaths is that the contractors, against the rules, without any protective equipment and without any body protection, put inexperienced people into the sewer.
- In 2014, the Supreme Court gave a verdict to give Rs 10 lakhs as compensation to those who died in the sewer. But there is not clarity on liability of Compensation payment. No compensation specified in case of any disability, injury and hospitalization. These gaps need to be removed. Many deaths go unreported also.
- Poisonous gases come from the sewer. After removing the cover for a long time, one should go down into the sewer with proper safety clothes and equipment. 10 lakhs should be paid by that municipality for any causality. Motor Vehicle Act should be added to this Act.
- Health Checkup to be conducted to all Sanitation workers and their family members.
- Awareness classes on precautions to be taken at regular intervals should be conducted for sanitation workers and contractors entering sewers.
While working in sewers, pointed out Alok Kumar, many workers are dying due to toxic gases and many other reasons in all States. Reeling off stastics, he said, “ Nine hundred eighty nine people died from 1993 to February 28, 2022. 78 people died in 2021-22 alone. From January 2022 till July 2, 2022, 42 people died. These are the official figures. Many deaths do not see the light of day. These deaths happened in all states and regions. It is sadder that it happened in the main city of Delhi. In Delhi, these deaths are happening in rich colonies, government office areas. No one is worried about these problems.
Expressing concern over workers dying due to the errors of our system in removing the sewer, VHP International Working President said workers are dying due to the errors of our system in removing the sewer. In 2014, the Supreme Court gave a verdict to pay a compensation of Rs 10 lakhs to those who died. There are some flaws in this verdict. Who should pay this compensation? There is no clarity. Two people died in an incident in Delhi. The third person was unconscious. This compensation was not given to the third person (since he did not die). Compensation has not been processed.
Similar deaths occured in Kolhapur and Poona in March 2022. Compensation was paid to Kolhapur affected families and whereas no compensation was paid to Poona victim family. If 10 lakhs compensation is deposited in the bank, it will get Rs 6,500/- monthly return. How can she live with her children after losing her husband with this income? The amount of compensation should be increased. If the contractor forces the worker to consume alcohol and go down the sewer without complying with the rules, if the sanitation worker dies, then a case of murder should be registered against the contractor. The municipality that appointed this contractor should pay those 10 lakhs. The family of the deceased should be compensated based on the family’s financial situation as worked out in the Motor Vehicle Act.” It is inhumane to have sanitation workers to descend into the sewer and urine drains of fellow human beings. These deaths must be put to an end. Necessary mechanisation must be undertaken. He further said that the rulers, government officials and all the people should be sensitised to solve the problems of sanitation workers .
Dickey Punjab, BMS National Vice-President presided over the conference. The objectives of the conference were explained by Surendran, BMS National Organising Secretary explained. Venkatesan, former Chairman Safai Karmachari Commission, Anjana Panwar, former member of the Commission, Rajesh Mandalika, National President, Swastya Karmachari Maha Sanghton, Girendranath Advocate, Om Prakash Ji (Delhi Water Board), Vinay Kumar Sharma, General Secretary brought various issues to the attention of the conference. Labour representatives and Samarasata activists from various States addressed the issues faced by sanitation workers.
Governments and municipalities are not planning the number of sanitation workers and sanitation planning according to the growing population. The sanitation system was handed over to the water board and left to the contractors. The contract workers are not paying the full salary to the workers. Contractors are keeping the ATM cards of the workers. There is no weekly off given. If workers present, their issues they dismiss the worker.
During the visit of Safai Karmachari Commission members, workers are not allowed to attend meetings. Workers are not allowed to attend awareness classes. Inexperienced people are employed so that low salary payments can be made.
No matter how many years you work, jobs are not permanent. In many places, workers are not paid on time every month. The contract system, which deprives such workers of their rights, should be abolished. Cooperative unions of cleaning workers should be formed and contract work should be assigned to them.
In his concluding speech, Shyam Prasad, National Convener Samarasata Vedika, said, “We are not prepared to give a glass of water to a sanitation worker who cleans our street when he is in need. Today, we must first learn to respect sanitation workers as fellow human beings. That is why the Samarasata Vedika has organised programs in 125 districts across the country to honour sanitation workers and listen to their problems. This year it will continue these programs in all the remaining districts. It is the responsibility of the people to treat the sanitation workers with respect. It is appreciated that BMS is coming forward to solve their problems. Samarasata Vedika volunteers are working for building a sense of kinship among all the people.”