Every five days one person loses life on an average due to infections and accidents in the process of manual scavenging in India. This is a record by National Commission for Safai Karamcharis (NCSK), of deaths during cleaning sewers and septic tanks across the country.
NCSK is a statutory body that was formed for the welfare of sanitation workers by Parliament. Indian Express has attempted to collect the data of sewer and septic tank cleaners death based on the newspaper reports and few additional informations collected from the government of some states.
“The death count is based on figures we could collate from a few states and mostly English and Hindi newspapers. There might have been several instances of similar stories in regional language papers which were weren’t able to account for,” said an official involved in the exercise.
The irony is the government itself has no proper records on the number of manual scavengers dying across the country. Though a rough record of NCSK suggests around 123 deaths of employees involved in precarious forms of manual scavenging since January 2017. According to another record six people died within a week time in Delhi. However this is merely a rough data, there is a high possibility of the numbers to go up if the data is recorded properly.
To one’s shock, SECC data doesn’t even include urban India where sewer cleaning is more frequent. As per SECC, Madhya Pradesh is the second state with the highest number of manual scavengers employed in its villages. According to data, there are 23,105 people working as manual scavengers in Madhya Pradesh. However, NCSK data doesn’t show any deaths at all.
“We have repeatedly asked states to identity those involved in these jobs but the states deny the existence of manual scavenging as the practice is banned under law. As a result, in many cases, the families of the dead don’t even get the compensation,” said NCSK chairperson Manhar Valjibhai Zala.
According to data obtained by The Indian Express, only 109 of the 170 districts have filed their response, and only 62 have identified at least one manual scavenger.
“The central government has ignored repeated recommendations for extending the survey to include another 300 districts and sewer-septic tank cleaners. Wilson was part of the team that assisted the central government in carrying the recent survey in 170 districts,” said the , founder of Safai Karamchari Andolan, Bezwada Wilson.