Time to treat sewer cleaners as humans

Published: Nov 13, 2018, 05:54 IST | mid-day correspondent | Mumbai

This long overdue rule should be absolutely non-negotiable and will also give some dignity to these workers, besides saving lives. This is the best Diwali gift for a tragically 'invisible' demographic of the city's workforce

It is more Diwali cheer for the city, as an old dangerous practice should now be relegated to the rubbish bin of BMC history. Following cases of labourers drowning while cleaning sewer lines, the BMC has decided to put an end to manual cleaning of sewers and Storm Water Drain (SWD) lines. The contractors will be warned to strictly adhere to ensuring that cleaning sewers or SWD lines is done mechanically, and not by entering the manholes themselves.

A report in this paper cited a senior civic official saying that they would fix responsibility on the contractors if any labourer was found entering manholes for cleaning sewers or SWD lines. This should be firmly implemented. For years now, sewers and SWD lines have been cleaned by labourers who put their life on the line for this purpose. They did not have adequate equipment or the required gear to be able to do this. This should be simply unacceptable, especially at a time when there is a great push from the government on development.

In February last year, at least three people died while cleaning a sewage tank in a western suburb in Mumbai. They were poisoned by toxic gases generated by rotting sewage. There is no comprehensive, collated data on deaths of such workers, which is also a huge indication about how tragically 'dispensable' they were considered. This long overdue rule should be absolutely non-negotiable and will also give some dignity to these workers, besides saving lives. This is the best Diwali gift for a tragically 'invisible' demographic of the city's workforce.

It is little use touting progress on the technology front and aspiring to be like Shanghai or Singapore, or whichever other global city, using feel-good catchphrases like Mumbai banega Singapore, when lives are lost because of a criminal, callous and cavalier outlook.

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