A new Dalit civil rights network, formed in Gujarat, has taken strong exception to the “failure” of the state government to implement the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers Act, 2013. Called Gujarat Safai Kamdar Adhikar Andolan (GSKAA), it has said that even the “basic rules” to implement the Act, which came into force on December 6, 2013, have not been made.
Consisting of senior activists from four major Ahmedabad-based NGOs working on human rights issues, Janvikas, Navsarjan Trust, Human Development and Research Centre and Manav Garima, they told a media conference, the situation is particularly appalling as the state government has not even implemented the Supreme Court order, dated March 27, 2014, which had asked all states to pay Rs 10 lakh compensation to manhole workers, who died due to asphyxiation after 1993.
“There are more than 170 manhole workers who died while cleaning drainage in Gujarat since 1993. We have represented to the tate government to implement the Act and award compensation. Yet, the government has not taken any action”, said Jitendra Rathod of Janvikas.
Rathod added, “We have prepared this list of 170 manhole workers, and handed it over to the state government. We have identified each of them. It should be more than that. Actually it is the duty of the state government to prepare the list after contacting city and town local bodies and police. It is a matter of just one month. Yet, even after two years, nothing has been done.”
Added Parsottam Vaghela of Manav Garima, “Dalit rights activists working in other states tell us that Rs 10 lakh compensation, as directed by the Supreme Court, has been paid by several South Indian states. It's a question of paying Rs 15 crore only in gujarat. It is difficult to understand why state government government is dilly dallying.”
Rathod said, the Supreme Court ruling had also “directed states compensate to the tune of Rs 50,000 to each of those who were cleaning up dry latrines, hence were involed in doing the despicable job of manual scavenging. “Nothing has been in this direction either. In Ahmedabad alone we have identified 200 such spots. Yet, the officialdom is indifferent”, he added.
Navsarjan Trust's Kirit Rathod revealed, “The state government, through a government resolution dated March 1, 2016, had admitted, quoting Census of India figures, that there were 32,960 individuals in Gujarat who were involved in cleaning dry latrines. Yet, the state government has not done anything comensate them. The practice should be banned, yet it continues unabated.”
Meanwhile, a GSKAA note claims, “Manual scavenging is increasing due to urbanization in Gujarat”, suggesting this is because open defecation is rising as increasing number of people migrate to cities, and there are not enough public toilets for them.
It adds, the state government has “not set up any implementing mechanism at state, district and taluka level”, as required by the anti-manual scavenging Act of 2013. “Government is not aware which department is responsible to implement the Act.”
“The state level monitoring committee should be implementing the Act has to be set up and should meet under chairmanship of Chief Minister twice in a year”, the note says, adding, “But, such committee has not been constituted, not to talk of meeting. This shows how state government is serious to implement the Act of 2013. ”
Activists accused the state government of “caste prejudice” as the reason behind “refusal” to implement the Act.
“While the fire brigade personnel are trained to carry out their risky job, those entering the gutters are not given any equipment, though their job is equally risky. There are at least 54 different equipment they must wear before entering the manhole. But they have to do it without all this. This is because they are Valmikis,”, they alleged.