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Mumbai: ‘Why should manual scavengers not be given Rs 50,000 comp each?’

Updated on: 29 May,2024 07:08 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Dipti Singh |

Human rights body asks BMC this in show-cause notice after Govandi locals produce evidence of labourers cleaning gutters with their bare hands despite the practice being banned

Mumbai: ‘Why should manual scavengers not be given Rs 50,000 comp each?’

Pictures captured by locals last year of labourers working without protective gear or gloves in Baiganwadi near Govandi

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Mumbai: ‘Why should manual scavengers not be given Rs 50,000 comp each?’

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has issued a show-cause notice under Section 18 (a)(i) of the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993, to the assistant commissioner of M East Ward, Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC). The notice demands an explanation as to why compensation of Rs 50,000 should not be awarded to each manual scavenger for the violation of their human rights.

This action follows a complaint by an NGO and residents in April last year about manual scavenging and cleaning of nullahs in Govandi. Residents had submitted photographic evidence of male and female labourers unclogging drains and removing filth and entering a manhole without protective gear or gloves in Baiganwadi near Govandi.

Taking cognisance of the complaint, the NHRC wrote to the suburban collector in May last year seeking an action-taken report and warned of invoking coercive processes under Section 13 of the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993.

The report

Following the commission’s directive, a report was submitted by M East ward’s assistant commissioner on August 25, 2023. According to the NHRC, the report states that the BMC appoints contractors through a tender process for the desilting of minor nullahs, roadside drains and culverts. These contractors are required to use both manpower and machinery to remove silt and floating material. The drains in question are designed for stormwater flow, not sewer water.

The report emphasised that contractors must deploy labourers equipped with safety gear, including gloves, helmets, reflective jackets, and safety shoes. If contractors fail to comply with these safety measures, the BMC imposes a penalty of R1,000 per labourer per day for each lapse. The report also noted the challenges of mechanically desilting the drains due to their small size and the presence of various utilities.

The notice

The NHRC show-cause notice dated May 21 reads, “It appears from the present complaint that the victims/labourers were found cleaning gutters with bare hands and the authorities concerned have failed to explain in this regard as there is no whisper in their report dated August 25, 2023. In this context, it is pertinent to mention the salient feature of the Manual Scavengers Act, 2013, which prohibits the employment of manual scavengers and manual cleaning of sewers and septic tanks without safety gear.

In the present case, the fact that the BMC appointed a contractor for the desilting of minor nullahs who in turn employed labourers to clean the gutters does not absolve the principal employer of their liability for safeguarding of the manual scavengers while discharging their duty of cleaning the gutters. Since it has not been denied that the manual labourers were cleaning the gutters with bare hands and no documents is forthcoming in this regard, it appears a violation of the Act seems to have been made out.

As such, issue show-cause notice u/s 18 (a)(i) PHR Act 1993 to assistant commissioner M East ward as to why compensation of R50,000 each shall not be granted in favour of the manual scavengers for violation of their human rights.”

Complainant Speak

“Manual scavenging is prohibited, but it is still being practised across Mumbai and the Mumbai Metropolitan Region. In April, we spotted manual scavengers, both men and women, without any safety gear, entering and cleaning nullahs in Govandi and Chembur. Labourers hired by contractors were seen manually cleaning nullahs as part of BMC’s pre-monsoon work. However, the BMC has failed to address the issue. We are now looking forward to their reply,” said Faiyaz Alam Shaikh, the complainant in the matter and founder-president of the NGO New Sangam Welfare Society.

Residents have complained that despite the Bombay High Court ordering the state government to eradicate the “inhuman” and “shameful” practice of manual scavenging in September 2021, the BMC still employs labourers to manually clean nullahs.

A resident said, “In contravention to the state government’s notification dated December 2022, which mandated that all local and municipal bodies in Maharashtra must put a stop to the manual cleaning of septic tanks and sewage lines by conservancy workers and switch to 100 per cent mechanisation, manual scavenging persists. The BMC justifies its stance by saying these are not sewer lines or septic tanks and hence cannot be termed manual scavenging. Is the BMC okay with contractors not providing safety gear and gloves to labourers cleaning gutters, letting them do their tasks with bare hands?”

May 21
Day show-cause notice was issued

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