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83 gutter workers died of suffocation since 2005; kin of 32 have not received government compensation

By Our Representative
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has served a notice on the Gujarat government over the latter’s failure to pay compensation payable against the death of gutter workers in the state. The notice has asked Gujarat chief secretary Varesh Sinha to provide “complete details” on why compensation has still not been paid to the kin of as many as 29 safai kamdars. Under an August 2009 notification, the Gujarat government is obliged to pay Rs 2 lakh to the kin of those gutter workers who die on duty.
The NHRC notice is based on a complaint filed by state-based NGO, Navsarjan Trust, which had complained that, between 2005 and 2012, as many as 80 gutter workers died in the state while on work due to suffocation they suffered from on entering the underground gutters. Yet, so far, compensation has not been paid to 29 workers. “This has come to light in a Right to Information (RTI) application filed by us“, the trust‘s.senior activist Kirit Rathod said.
He added, if one adds this to three more who died of suffocation in gutter this year -- one in the state capital, Gandhinagar on March 23, 2013, the second one in Godhra on April 20, 2013, and the third in Gandhidham, at the Kandla Port Trust, on June 8, 2013 -- “then the total number of gutter workers against whom no compensation has been paid reaches 33.” Rathod made his complaint to the NHRC on June 16, 2013, which made NHRC to issue a notice to the state government.
“In all, nine gutter workers die every year in Gujarat. The highest number of deaths have taken place in Ahmedabad, 18. We have been told that cases for paying compensation are pending before the Safai Kamdar Development Corporation“, Rathod said, adding, “In all there are 50,000 safai kamdars in Gujarat. There is a sizeable number of them who work as gutter cleaners. There are a few who work even as manual scavengers, continuing with the despicable practice of cleaning nigh soil.”
Rathod says, the “indifference” towards paying compensation is evident despite the fact that the budgeted amount payable against group insurance taken for the safai kamdars has gone up from Rs 13 lakh in 2005-06 to Rs 20 lakh last year. In his letter to the NHRC, he demanded urgent legal steps and FIR against officials and contractors who made the gutter workers to enter poisonous sewerage chambers under dangerous conditions when poisonous gases are at a very high level.

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