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165 manhole deaths in Gujarat, 62 in Ahmedabad; govt "refusing" to pay Rs 10 lakh compensation: Widows

Hansaben and Gitaben
By Our Representative
Gitaben's husband, belonging to India's most marginalised Dalit community, Valmikis, died while cleaning up a gutter in Ahmedabad in 2006. Though she was given compensation of Rs 2 lakh and a job by the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC), she has still not received the Rs 10 lakh compensation she should get on the basis of the March 27, 2014 Supreme Court order. Same is the case with Hansaben, whose husband died died in the year 2000.
The Supreme Court order requires payment of Rs 10 lakh compensation to each of the manual scavengers who died cleaning up gutters across India since 1993. However, the two widows alleged that they had "still not heard" from the state government on when will they be compensated, despite repeated representations.
The widows were participating in a public hearing of 200 marginalized women, belonging to Dalit, tribal and minority communities from across Gujarat at the Human Development and Research Centre (HDRC), St Xavier's College premises, Ahmedabad, on Tuesday.
Talking about the plight of not just these widows but also others, whose husbands have died cleaning up gitters since 1993, Parsottam Vaghela of the Manav Garima Trust told newspersons, "Between 1993 and till date as many as 165 persons have died due to asphyxiation in gutters. However, so far, only 11 widows have received the Rs 10 lakh compensation."
"Ironically", he continued, "Even the compensation to the 11 widows is not being paid in in the full. Earlier, they had received an amount of Rs 1.5 to 3 lakh as compensation when their husbands died. This amount was cut from the Rs 10 lakh, which has to be paid as compensation".
"Worse", he told Counterview, "The interest for the three year period after the Supreme Court order has not been paid, which is a clear violation of the apex court order", adding, "We hope, with polls round the corner, the government would act, taking Election Commission permission."
Of the 165 manhole workers who have died, 62 belong to Ahmedabad alone. Ironically, for 10 of them, the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation has sought clarification from the state authorities whether their widows should be paid any compensation, as their kin had been given “mercy” jobs.
"In order to avoid giving any compensation various other explanations are being offered", said Vaghela. "Like, the Dahegam municipality, about 20 km from the state capital, Gandhinagar, says that since the two workers who died were contract workers, it is not the job of the government authorities to give any compensation".
" Then", he said, "Mansa municipal authorities say that since those the two persons who had died were working under the water supply department, it is not their job to give compensation. In Jamnagar, four boys died in manhole after they were asked to enter into the manhole in order to save the person, who had already entered in earlier, fainted in the gutter."
"Five years after the tragedy, the Jamnagar Municipal Corporation has said that while the person who died first would be given compensation, the other four who died while saving him would not be compensated. Queries are being raised for each of 165 cases on one pretext or the other in order to flout the Supreme Court order", he added.
During the public hearing, Jassuben, an illiterate Dalit woman, said, her son was killed seven years ago in Ahmedabad's Vatva area, yet no FIR was filed. Even the post mortem was not performed on his body.
And Manjulaben, another Dalit woman, pointed towards how she was suspended from the job of cook at the midday meal kitchen in Junagadh's Ghantiya village "because the principal of the school and the village elders did not want food to be served food by an untouchable."

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