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Here's proof: Manual scavenging is rampant, Ahmedabad isn't open defecation free

By Parsottam Vaghela*
Authorities of Ahmedabad, the largest city of Gujarat, may have gone into full swing in its cleanliness drive under the Swachh Bharat mission after the city was awarded the open defecation free plus (ODF+) certificate by the Union government’s Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs. However, my visit to some of the areas of the walled city of Ahmedabad on August 7 in order to ascertain whether it has become open defecation free suggested that the claim is a total humbug.
The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, bans manual scavenging. The law prohibits dry latrines. It says, if such latrines exist, these should be converted into wet latrines. Starting early in the morning, I, accompanied by a couple of other colleagues, went around different spots identified by our activists.
Porsattam Vaghela
First we reached Shankar Bhawan area in Shahpur. Here, we found that a woman Valmiki worker is on duty24 hours. Her name is Jyotsanaben. We talked to her. She lives there, atop the Sulabh Shauchalaya, the so-called Easy Toilets, in a small room, given to her so that she is always on duty. Earning Rs 8,000 per month, she cleans the Sulabh Shauchalaya at 4 o’clock in the morning, so that she is not noticed cleaning it manually.
Though it is a pay-and-use facility, it is extremely dirty, and yet we found that people going in. Outside, there are baby toilets, which have not been supplied with any water supply facility. The baby toilets particularly need to be cleaned up manually, she told us. Working as a contract worker for the last four years, she must clean the excreta manually. Nor has she been supplied any safety equipment.
Then we went to Mirzapur, and near RC Vidyalaya, off Rural Sessions Court Road, where we found an old pay-and-use facility, which is in tatters. Also called Sulabh Sauchalaya, its commodes are all damaged and requiring replacement for long. The toilets do not have any lights for the last about six months. Worse, there are no doors in any of them. The water supply here is irregular.
In fact, people told us that, while they want to use the toilets, they are so dirty that they simply cannot step in. We found gutter overflowing, with large number of insects roaming around. While women do use it, because they have no other option, at night they fear entering in, because it is dark. Just next to it is are baby toilets, with excreta all around. Safai karmacharis belonging to the Valmiki community manually clean up them up.
Following this, via Mirzapur road, we reached Sarkiwad, near Bhurkhaposh Masjid, in front which we spotted 32 dry latrines. These toilets do not have water taps, and there is no electricity either. Half of the toilets are for men, and other half for women. Here also, we saw baby toilets. There was a board hanging on the wall of a small room, which said it is meant for safai karmacharis.
People go inside these toilets carrying tumblers, because these do not have any water supply facility. Safai karmacharis belonging to the Valmiki community clean them up manually with the help of broom, without any mask or gumboot, which is in complete violation of the anti-manual scavenging law.
Then we reached Nagoriwad in Shahpur area, finding that just in front of the Sulabh Sauchalaya, children were defecating in the open. Garbage, ranging from plastics to human excreta, was all littered around. Workers of the JCC company, which has been given the contract to pick up waste door to door by the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC), lift the dirt, including human excreta, without any safety equipment.
What shocked us was, next to the dirty premises of Sulabh Sauchalaya is an anganwadi, a government-run child care centre. With such state of affairs, the Government of India should take back the ODF+ award given to Ahmedabad for its alleged cleanliness. Dry latrines are there, even though the law disallows their existence, and wants them to be converted into wet latrines with running water.
We have been impressing upon senior officials of the Gujarat government, including the Ahmedabad municipal commissioner, to rectify the situation. I wrote a letter to Vijay Nehra, Ahmedabad municipal commissioner, on July 29, 2019, telling his about ground realities, and also met him.
When I asked him to provide safety equipment for the manual scavengers, he was sarcastic, and told me tauntingly, “Why don’t you buy them safety equipment? You should get an award, you are doing so much for safai karmacharis.”
More recently, I met urban development secretary Mukesh Puri, social justice and empowerment secretary Manoj Agrawal, and panchayats secretary AK Rakesh, handing them over our letters of concern. I have also made a submission to Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani’s Jan Sampark (people’s contact) office on this, and am awaiting action.
---
*Director, Manav Garima Trust, Ahmedabad. As told to Rajiv Shah. Contact: parsottam23@gmail.com, mobile: 9979705011. All photos taken on August 7

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