Thursday 23 March 2017 News Updated at 04:03 PM IST
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Scavenger deaths, a real shame - Deccan Herald
Scavenger deaths, a real shame
March 16, 2017, DHNS
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The death of three manual scavengers in Bengaluru last week is a shame which simply cannot be overlooked. The fact that there have been as many as 57 manhole deaths in the last nine years in Karnataka alone and none has led to a conviction so far, should spur the Siddaramaiah government to make serious attempts to completely eliminate this practice of employing humans to enter the manhole, as clearly barred by the laws. It is worth reiterating that the law passed by Parliament in 2013 - the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Act - imposes a total ban on "anyone employing any person directly or indirectly for the hazardous cleaning of a sewer or septic tank." The first contravention of the Act invites a jail term of two years, and the subsequent one, five years' jail and a fine of up to Rs 5 lakh. There were four manhole deaths in Doddaballapur last April and two in Bengaluru last August, but no guilty person has felt the heat so far as the police have failed to invoke the relevant laws.

In the latest instance, the police need to identify the officials of the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) who asked the contractor, Ramkey Enterprises, to take up "urgent" de-clogging of a manhole in Sir C V Raman Nagar. The complainant must have been a VIP as the contractor sent three of his employees to attend to the problem at 12.30 am. There were no supervisors around and the workers had no safety equipment, and what followed is now well known. The BWSSB officials delayed giving information about the contractor to the police for three days, allowing the culprits to escape. The government, if it means business, should ask the police to book cases against the BWSSB engineers and the contractor under the more stringent Section 304 of IPC with 10-year jail term rather than the 304A currently invoked, which stipulates only two years' jail term.

As manual scavenging has gone on unabated, the Karnataka government would do well to appoint the local activist, Magsaysay-award winning Bezwade Wilson, who has worked tirelessly among the Dalits for over three decades, as an official coordinator to handle such cases and put an end to the obnoxious practice. The government should also use his services to ensure the payment of compensation and rehabilitation of manual scavengers as envisaged in the Act, as per the direction of the apex court. A dramatic change in attitude among officials can come about only when a senior government functionary is held guilty and sent to jail.


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