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Ahmedabad's sanitation workers, on strike, forced to do manual scavenging at 200 spots in city: NGO survey

By Our Representative
Amidst continuing strike by sanitation workers attached with the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) in favour of regularizing their employment, latest facts reveal there are more than 200 spots where they are "forced" to do the despicable job of manual scavenging in a city which is desperately waiting to acquire the UNESCO Heritage tag.
Apart from “cleaning up” the city every day, the sanitation workers, most of whom belong to the Valmiki community, must manually clean up human excreta at these 200 plus spots, these facts reveal. Worse, in some parts, such as the posh western zone, a great majority of them are forced to do it without being on government rolls, merely as contract workers.
According to information collected by a senior activist attached with the Ahmedabad-based NGO Janvikas, Jitendra Rathod, the AMC recently advertised in a top vernacular daily, “Gujarat Samachar” seek “objections”, if any, on declaring as many as 34 wards of Ahmedabad as open defecation free (ODF) under Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Swachchha Bharat Mission.
Following the ad, which appeared in May, Janvikas, in alliance with a community organization working among the Valmikis, Manav Garima, conducted survey of these 34 wards. “We identified that there were 55 spots where open defecation is exists, which leads to manual scavenging”, Rathod said.
“We gave details with photographs of open defecation and raised our objections to declare 34 wards as ODF”, said Rathod, adding, however, “So far, no action has been taken in stopping open defecation in any of the wards. Already, three months have passed, yet no concrete details are being shared.”
A few days back, said Rathod, AMC again released an ad in “Gujarat Samachar” seeking information on declaring another eight wards as ODF, seeking objections, if any. “It is surprising. Is the AMC just completing formalities in order to declare the city ODF by publishing advertisement in newspapers?”, he asked.
Insisting that the practice of manual scavenging cannot be prohibited just by ads or chanting slogans, Rathod said, “One needs systematic steps and infrastructure to stop open defecation/manual scavenging. It requires sufficient sanitation facilities like individual or community toilets, drainage, water etc. in slum areas.”
“Otherwise”, he said, “The sanitation workers, nearly all of whom belong to to Valmiki community, would have no other option but forced to handle, remove, carry human excreta in cities like Ahmedabad.”
The sanitation workers' plight is particularly pitiable, as in the 178 square km western zone of the city, which is equal to the total area of Vadodara city, Gujarat's cultural capital, just about 219 of 2,463, working as daily wage workers, are regularized, with many of them are working for up to two decade. The western zone consists of Vejalpur, Bodakdev, Jodhpur, Thaltej, Sarkhej, Ghatlodiya, Gota, Chandlodiya, Ranip and Kali areas.
Led by Dalit leader Jignesh Makwana, the Jan Sangharsh Manch, representing the striking sanitation workers, has said in a note that they are “deprived of all the benefits that come with a permanent job including health, residency and retirement benefits etc.”
“Instead of following the principle of equal wage for equal work, these workers are firstly forced to work as daily wagers and paid much reduced wages as compared to permanent workers”, the note said, highlighting how they are being forced to enter into gutters without any safety equipment.
“They pick up garbage, spraying anti-malarial drugs, all of which lead to severe health issues, yet they have no health coverage”, it underlined, suggesting, instead of adopting a sympathetic attitude towards the sanitation workers, they are being targeted for creating health problems in the city for refusing to take care of cleanliness of the city, leading to health hazards to the citizens.
“On Sunday, around 30 sanitary workers, including four women, were detained by the Gujarat police for long hours for the simple act of protesting and an FIR was registered late in the night”, the note said, adding, “While detaining them the police abused and manhandled the workers. No lady constable or officer was present.”
Meanwhile, there are reports that the AMC is considering to impose Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) to break the sanitation workers' strike, continuing for the last more than a week. It is not known how and under which law the government would impact ESMA on the daily wagers.

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