Updated: August 4, 2015 12:39 IST | Mohit M. Rao

Cleaning of sewers, descending into manholes, removing night-soil (human excreta) using a broom find a place in the National Career Services portal. | The Hindu
What was conceived by the Narendra Modi-led NDA government as bringing employers and job seekers on a single platform, seems to now promote and allow the hiring of the prohibited act of manual scavenging at the click of a button.

Cleaning of sewers, descending into manholes, removing night-soil (human excreta) using a broom find a place in the National Career Services portal that was launched recently as a part of Skill India.

For instance, under the ‘unorganised sector’ panel of the website, a “Sweeper, Sewer” is “expected to” clean sewage systems by “using various cleaning instruments,” including bamboo or iron rod, and collecting debris and refuse in a bucket using a spade and handing this bucket to “helper outside manhole.”

Similarly, the “Sweeper, Wet” description lists a “key competency” of removing “night soil using spade and broom.”

On its launch by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on July 20, the portal was to link two crore job seekers with nearly nine lakh establishments. Mr. Modi had then said: “…it is essential for Indian society to develop a consciousness towards ‘dignity of labour’.”

However, advocates Clifton D’ Rozario and Maitreyi Krishnan — who had taken the issue of manual scavenging to the Karnataka High Court — say: “These dehumanising [definitions] are the very practice due to which the manual scavenging community has been stigmatised, ostracised and discriminated. [It] is now being proudly promoted as a ‘career option’.”

Furthermore, employing persons under these definitions have been made punishable with imprisonment under the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, the advocates say.

‘Inhuman practice’

They also point to the Supreme Court order (dated March 27, 2014) in the Safai Karamchari Andolan vs. Union of India case, where the court observes that handling human excrements with bare hands, brooms or metal scrappers or in baskets is an “inhuman practice,” while in November 2008, the Chennai High Court had directed that the cleaning of sewage could only be through mobile mechanical pumps or other devices.

Acknowledging that the description did indeed become promotion of manual scavenging, M. Shivanna, Chairperson, National Safai Karamchari Commission, said, “This is definitely wrong, and amounts to promoting such activities. Though we have been insisting that Sucking and Jetting Machines should be used, the website implies that descending into manholes is also a part of the job.”

The commission will issue a notice seeking clarification on Wednesday, he told The Hindu.

In same league as astrologers

Incredibly, the job profile of a “Safai Karamchari” and a “scavenger” is listed as being “mildly hazardous or dangerous” — putting them in the same category as “astrologer” and “palmist” that come under unorganised sector careers.

While the risks for “Safai Karamchari” include “lung, respiratory, neurological diseases, infection, biological diseases, suffocation, fatigue,” for an astrologer or palmist or money lender, the dangers include “heart diseases, depression and anxiety, fatigue, stress.”

The website similarly contains unfortunate, now antiquated phrases for describing jobs. “Domestic Servant” is described as “performing the general house-hold duties and attending to the personal comforts of master or employer” — terms that show “underlying feudalism,” say advocates Clifton D’ Rozario and Maitreyi Krishnan.