We are planning to send ambitious Human mission to the Moon in next a couple of years. In such advanced country like India the incident of Nalasopara is very unfortunate, where three labourers died while cleaning a septic tank. This shows the pathetic work condition of sanitation workers. They are forced to do this work without any safety measures. Manual scavenging has persisted in the country even as India has made remarkable progress in every field. It is more painful because manual scavenging is deeply embedded in the country’s caste system. Traditionally members of lower castes are forced to carry out such tasks that are considered unacceptable to other castes.
Vasai-Virar Mayor Rupesh Jadhav told Afternoon Voice, “One of my workers’ relative has expired and I am busy in that. I haven’t yet given any thoughts on the ones who died in septic tanks. I will look into the matter once I am free. Further when asked whether the death of the sanitation workers matter less to him, he said, “Special attention to the Karyakatas is also required. I will get into the details of the incident soon after this.”
The tragedy of Nalasopara is not a first incident of its kind. Such incidents have taken place in Maharashtra and the rest of the country earlier, too. In March 2019, six people choked to death after entering septic tank in Tamil Nadu. In October 2018, three sanitation workers died due to suffocation while cleaning a sewage line at Khambalpada, Dombivli MIDC. Similarly, in September 2018 five men had died after they were ordered to clean a septic tank in an upmarket housing complex in Delhi without any safety equipment. From Kashmir to Kerala such incidents happen and our Maharashtra is also no exception to this.
Advocate Godfrey Pimenta said, “We have been raising this issue from time to time. The workers engaged by contractors are cleaning the drains with bare hands. They don’t wear any protective gears, no hand gloves and mask. They are likely to inhale methane and other poisonous gases. There is absolutely no supervision happening from the Mumbai Municipal Corporation. Last year, I had found an inch long worms moving around after the filth was removed. A corporation which has got a budget of Rs 30,000 crores can’t spend money on the safety of workers. This is a case of human rights violation.”
At Nalasopara of Palghar district last week the incident took place in Anand View Apartments in Nilemore locality. The three labourers, who were in the age group of 25 to 35, went into the septic tank to clean it. They died inside the tank due to inhalation of toxic gases. A supervisor had hired six workers to clean the tank. One of the workers died after entering the tank and inhaling toxic gases. Two others, who entered the tank to rescue him, also died. Later on the fire brigade and a team of the disaster management cell reached the spot and pulled out the dead bodies. According to labourers, they were not provided with any safety gear, oxygen masks or other equipment to protect them. Police have registered cases against eight persons on charges of negligence. Generally the blame for such deaths is passed on to contractors and families of the victims are paid off to not pursue the cases. But this is not permanent solution of the problem. Like Swachh Bharat Abhiyan an intensive awareness programme should be launched for this in the entire nation.
Advocate Reena Bansode said, “The labourers of unorganized sector are neglected by the government. They are not provided basic equipments like safety mask while cleaning the septic tank. All unorganized labourers are neglected by the government. They should get compensatory benefit for their lives. The laws for unorganized sectors should be implemented strictly. So they can become a part of this society. There should be strict rules followed by the builders and contractors. This is routine practice while doing such work i.e. when they open the door of the septic tank all living creatures like cockroach and lizard etc come out. If they are alive it means that there is no dangerous gas inside the chamber. But this practice is very dangerous and risky. Instead of it a proper machinery should be used by the builders and contractors wherever possible.”
In 2013 employing people to clean human solid waste by hand was banned by making a law. Sources say that at least one worker dies while cleaning sewers or septic tanks every five days. But activists and the National Commission for Safai Karamacharis (NCSK) claim that the real death rate is probably much higher. According to experts, the national capital Delhi is among the worst continued offenders in the country where some 40 people a month die while cleaning out sewers and septic tanks by hand. Bezwada Wilson of the Sanitation Workers Movement said that over 1,800 had died since a Supreme Court ruling in 2014 condemned the lack of enforcement of the law protecting sanitation workers. Persons in power are not taking these incidents seriously.