The honorable Prime Minister of India started the Clean India Mission on October 2nd 2014, with Modiji himself taking the broom and sweeping the streets of a police station in a Dalit residential colony in New Delhi
A large number of celebrities were made brand ambassadors, although none of them are experts in the field. PSE & Private Companies pledged to build 1 lakh toilets to support the initiative & the centre also levied a S.B. cess of 0.5% on taxable services to meet the budget outlay. Post demonetisation, the new currency notes carried an image of Mahatma Gandhi’s signature round glasses, the logo of SBA. (Sagar, 2017)
Clearly, the PM has made the mission a core policy issue and it is commendable in its vision & efforts. The numbers also point to steady decrease in Open Defecation & in the increase in the number of toilets. However, there is a lack of understanding & action on the single most important issue in this argument. The right of dignity for manual scavengers and their communities to live a healthy life with the aid of cleaning equipment and safety gear.
In Karnataka a pioneer in the field of sanitation four decades ago, more than 70 people have lost their lives in the last 10 years while cleaning manholes, dry latrines & sewage blocks. Safai Karamchari Andolan (SKA) estimates the number could be higher due to the fact the some cases go unreported. The government has no role to play in manual scavenging as its duties are outsourced to private contractors whose only objective is to turn profits, rather than provide for the safety & security of employees. (Ram, 2017)
The Employment of Manual Scavenging and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act was passed in 1993. Things should have ended then. 25 years down the line, the only excuse the centre can come up with is this; enforcement of the ban is the duty of the state government. In 2013, the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act came into force, although by name only. Gujarat, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan & Madhya Pradesh have the highest number of manual scavenging communities, where rehabilitation schemes have not found to have a positive effect & there is a lack of accountability from the government. (Watch, 2014)
The life of a manual scavenger & their families is akin to the worst form of slavery. Born into a caste system with historical prejudices, these men and women, for no fault of theirs have been locked in a system of injustice that is unparalleled in scale, anywhere in the world. Democracy has not helped them progress & gain a basic level of prosperity. Their children, though educated are compelled to follow the sickly tradition & alcoholism is rife in the community. Rehabilitation has not worked for them nor has the attitude of the society who depends on these people to fulfill a requirement that frankly, with so much scientific advancement is still out of bound of understanding for the people in power. (Venkat T., 2017)
The Supreme Courts states that government surveys are ineffective in eradicating manual scavenging. In one sample, the Court compared two surveys in Rajasthan where in the same area the government reported 46 individuals while the NGO survey stated 800 individuals. The centre does not even want an external agency to conduct Swachh Bharath Survey, a condition that needs to be satisfied to access World Bank funds. Is it beyond their understanding that for a mission of such a large scale to succeed, it needs regular audits & feedback for improvement, not just an exercise in numbers enhanced by marketing & publicity campaigns, that it needs simple tools like shoes & safety gear for its sanitation not celebrities who have never known what if feels like in the bottom of sewage pit.