Contractors are employing agriculturists to clean drains
Thanikachalam Sekar (53) cultivates groundnut in one acre of land in Vettavalam Village of Thiruvannamalai District. However, on Thursday, he was at work cleaning sewage in a stormwater drain on Poonamallee High Road near Ripon Buildings in Chennai, 200 km away from his native village.
Five months after the National Human Rights Commission pulled up the State government for engaging dalits as manual scavengers, civic bodies are deploying a number of farmers belonging to other backward classes for such work. The Supreme Court has also ordered States to ban manual scavenging.
“I have started cleaning drains in the city and earn Rs. 450 per day. Rain-fed agriculture is very difficult to continue in,” said Mr. Sekar. The drains are polluted with sewage, yet Mr. Sekar was not wearing any protective gear. He was not concerned about the stigma either.
The contractor who carried out the work on behalf of the Corporation said a number of farmers like Mr. Sekar were engaged in the work. “Farmers from dry areas including Thiruvannamalai are ready to do such work. They also use the wages to procure farm inputs,” he said.
“If we use machines for such operations, the telecom cables will get damaged. So, we have no alternative,” he added. Chennai Corporation officials reportedly used the services of the contractor after the CMRL diverted waste water, clogging the drains.
“Many hotels near Ripon Buildings illegally let sewage into stormwater drains. The Public Health Department wanted to clean the drain to tackle public health issues,” said an official of Chennai Corporation. Recently, civic body officials in all zones of the city were asked to implement the provisions of the Prohibition of Employment of Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013.
In November 2014, the National Human Rights Commission observed that people engaged in manual scavenging are often dalits. The NHRC also pointed to violation of the Fundamental Rights guaranteed by the Constitution.
“The National Commission for Safai Karamcharis can intervene even if the person is not a dalit. This is a violation of the Act. The person concerned will get a jail term of two years and a fine of Rs.5 lakh,” said Dr. Lata Om Prakash Mahato, Member of National Commission for Safai Karamcharis.