Bezwada Wilson said that instead of revealing data on the manual scavenging deaths, the government was trying to bypass the question

NEW DELHI: Bezwada Wilson, who heads the Safai Karamchari Andolan, an NGO working to eliminate manual scavenging, told TOI on Friday that the central government’s statement in Parliament that no manual scavenging deaths had been recorded in the country in the past five years is inhuman like the practice itself.

“It is a very inhuman statement by the minister in Parliament. Just like manual scavenging is an inhuman practice,” Wilson said. He added that Safai Karamchari Andolan had alone documented 472 manual scavenging deaths in the past five years, with 26 deaths while cleaning sewers and septic tanks just in 2021.

On Thursday, replying to a question asked about the number of people engaged in manual scavenging who had died in the last five years, the Union minister of state for social justice and empowerment Ramdas Athawale had declared in the Rajya Sabha, “No such deaths have been reported due to manual scavenging.”
Wilson said that instead of putting out the real data on manual scavenging, the central government is not even acknowledging the problem. In a reply to a similar question in Lok Sabha in February last year, while maintaining there had been no reports regarding deaths due to manual scavenging, the social justice ministry had maintained, “The National Commission for Safai Karamcharis has received reports regarding the death of persons while cleaning sewers and septic tanks.” The differentiation indicated that deaths due to surface scavenging might be rare.

Wilson said that people dying while cleaning sewers and septic tanks couldn’t be categorised differently from manual scavenging deaths. “The ministry seems to think manual scavenging only involves dry latrines. No one may die in dry latrines, but sewage and septic tank cleaners are also manual scavengers. Instead of revealing data on the manual scavenging deaths, the government is trying to bypass the question,” Wilson tsaid

Wilson added that during the previous Parliament session, the ministry had revealed that as many as 340 people had died while cleaning sewers and septic tanks up to December 31, 2020. “We have documented the individual details of each person among the 472 who died of manual scavenging in the last five years. Let us first acknowledge that the problem of inhuman manual scavenging still exists,” said Wilson.