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‘Manual scavenging continues to be a problem’

In Karnataka, eight deaths have been reported in 2021

Many activists have raised objections to Union Minister for Social Justice Ramdas Athawale’s recent response to a question in the Rajya Sabha, claiming that no deaths have been reported due to manual scavenging over the last five years.

In Karnataka, eight deaths due to manual scavenging have been reported in 2021. Karnataka Safai Karmachari Commission Chairman M. Shivanna Kote told The Hindu that the eight people who died were daily wage workers. “Technically, they cannot be labelled as manual scavengers. Manual scavengers or safai karmacharis or scavengers or pourakarmikas are those who have been appointed specifically by local bodies, such as panchayats, municipalities,” he explained.

Citing the recent death of three workers due of asphyxiation while cleaning a manhole in Ramanagaram and two deaths in Kalaburagi, Mr. Kote said that the workers were daily wage workers who had been hired for manual scavenging.

K.B. Obalesh, State convenor of Safai Karmacharis Kaval Samiti, pointed out that the National Crime Reports Bureau (NCRB) notes the prevalence of the practice of manual scavenging. “Across the country, FIRs are registered for deaths caused due to manual scavenging, apart from being discussed numerous times in Parliament. The statement shows that the Ministry of Social Justice is neglecting safai karamcharis,” he said.

He said that the Centre had launched the ‘Safai Mitra Suraksha Challenge’ with the sole objective of preventing deaths due to manual scavenging and creating awareness about the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013. “The Karnataka State Legal Services Authority has also registered a suo motu case on manual scavenging deaths, and the case is being heard by the High Court of Karnataka,” he pointed out.

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