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Union leaders sacked for protesting "illegal" practice of manual scavenging in small Gujarat town

By Our Representative
Manual scavengers of a small town in Gujarat, Dudhrej of Surendranagar district, are on warpath. Following the refusal of the state government authorities to heed to their demand to regularize them, the scavengers – who mostly work as contractors workers under the local municipality – took out their maiden rally in Surendranagar to protest against the “discriminatory attitude” of the authorities. They allege, instead of rehabilitating them in respectable jobs, they are forced to manually clean up human excreta, or else quit the job.
In a written representation following the rally to the district collector, Surendranagar, the Safai Kamdar Hak Rakshak Samiti, which is fighting for their rights, has said, “Instead of heeding to the demands of the manual scavengers, the chief officer of the municipality has sacked one of our chief leaders, Hireshbhai Bariya, as also several others who had sought to protest against the despicable practice.” It adds, “These workers were removed unceremoniously. They were not even given a written order. They were told orally not to come for work from the next day.”
The representation said, apart from rehabilitating them from manual scavenging, one of their major demands was that the contractor, who employs them under the banner of Navalgadh Majur Sahkari Mandali, should hand pay them in accordance with the minimum wages applicable for the work they were made to do. The representation said, the minimum wages payable to them is Rs 230.40 per day, which they are not being paid.
“Instead of complying by minimum wages law, the contractor has refused to deposit with  authorities the employees’ provident fund (EPF) amount deducted from wages. We have been demanding to hand over EPF slips suggesting how much of EPF has been deposited, but the contractor refused to give any details”, said Baldevbhai Rathod, who signed the representation on behalf of the manual scavengers. He adds, “This is happening despite the fact they have been working without break under the municipality’s fire station.”
“The chief officer, during a Lok Darbar with us, agreed to ensure that minimum wages are paid to us, and also that our EPF amount would be deposited and we would get the receipts. Instead, however, he has sought to sack manual scavengers who were in the forefront of the demand, suspecting that they were behind information being given to the media”, Rathod said, adding, “it is a clear case of corruption, which should be investigated into.”
Putting up a list of demands, the representation insisted that the payment of their wages should be straight deposited in the nationalized banks, the difference caused by the failure to implement the minimum wages should be paid to them with effect from the day on which they had begun to work on contract, and FIR should be lodged against the contractor, who has not deposited their EPF money with the authorities.
The representation further asked the district collector to institute a case under the anti-atrocities Act against those who were forced them to clean up manual excreta, lying next to public toilets. “The new law, Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act 2013 should be applied on those responsible”, it said. The Act prohibits manual scavenging, manual cleaning of septic tanks and sewers and unsanitary toilets. 

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