Death in the gutter in Chennai

Chennai, May 13, 2013: The death of two workers in a sewage tank in Chennai revives the call for the eradication of manual scavenging. By R. ILANGOVAN
THAT manual scavenging continues to be a national shame became evident once again when two Dalits died of asphyxiation while cleaning a sewage tank in a private hotel in Chennai in Tamil Nadu on April 20. Shekar (45) and Robert (47) were the latest casualties of the abhorrent system of workers entering drains to clear blocks manually. Between February 2011 and December 2012, 19 people have died in this manner in the State, 15 of them in the capital city alone.
The debasing occupation forced chiefly on Dalits through the generations prompted the Supreme Court recently to make stinging comments against the Union government for “not enacting a law that will ban manual scavenging”. (A number of public interest litigation (PIL) petitions on the issue are pending before various courts in the country besides two in the Supreme Court.)
On January 8, the Supreme Court expressed serious concern at the inordinate delay in passing the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Bill, 2012, aimed at amending and replacing the existing Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993, which, activists say, remains just on paper.
“We are very much concerned about this issue of [manual scavenging],” the court observed. “They [manual scavengers] are marginalised and Parliament needs to take adequate steps to pass the Bill [introduced on September 3, 2012]. It had been over a year and [a] half that the Additional Solicitor General has been promising to do something,” the two-member Bench of Justices H. L. Datu and Ranjan Gogoi told Attorney General G. E. Vahanvati.
The Bench made these comments while hearing an appeal from the Centre challenging a Madras High Court order of 2011 on a PIL filed on manual scavenging by the Chennai-based social activist A. Narayanan. The High Court, which had banned manual scavenging in Tamil Nadu in 2008, issued a stern warning to the Centre that if it failed to amend the law to prevent manual scavenging, the court would be constrained to direct the personal appearance of any of the high dignitaries from either the Prime Minister’s Office Secretariat or other departments.
After getting a stay on it, the Centre, through its Attorney General, assured the court that it would take steps to make changes in the Bill to widen the scope of the definition of “manual scavenger”. The Attorney General also submitted that unlike the 1993 Act, the new Bill would be brought under Entry 97 of the Constitution which makes it binding on States and Union Territories to abide by it. (Source:

13-05-2013 | Posted by Admin