Scavengers Still Fighting For Help

City Environment Top Story

Only 610 people have received the One Time Cash Assistance since 2013

Only 35 percent of the total number of manual scavengers in Karnataka has received the One Time Cash Assistance (OTCA) of Rs. 40,000 under the Prohibition of Employment and Rehabilitation of Manual Scavengers Act, 2013, according to reports from National Safai Karamcharis Finance and Development Corporation (NSKFDC).

The survey of manual scavengers undertaken by NSKFDC, in accordance with the act claimed that there are about 1,721 scavengers in six districts of Karnataka and nearly 22,000 in the whole country.

Quite contrary to these numbers, the Safai Karamchari Andolan, an NGO working with manual scavenging, claimed differently that there are 160,000 scavengers in the country and nearly 10,000 in Karnataka alone.

Irrespective of several NGOs accusing the government of conducting an irresponsible survey, no new initiative of a fresh survey has been taken. Out of the claimed 1,721 scavengers in Karnataka, only 610 have received the cash assistance.

Naveen Gautam, a lawyer at the Centre for Social Change says, “These policies do not work that well. It is primarily because the scavengers are barely aware of their right to such cash assistance. Even if they are aware of it, they do not know where to go to get it. Government officers often make then run-around for a small instalment, then delay the next instalment so much that they eventually give up hope of getting the entire amount that is sanctioned by the Government.”

According to Sulabh International, “Scavenging is the practice of manual cleaning of human excreta from dry latrines. The scavengers crawl into the latrines and collect the human waste with their bare hands, carry it as head-load in a container to dispose of it.”

It also refers to scavenging as a hereditary profession, something that one generation hands down to the next generation as a legacy. Gautam adds, “It has to be first understood that manual scavenging is essentially based on caste structure. They not only go through in human physical conditions, but the profession takes a toll on their mental health as well. These scavengers mostly belong to the lowest castes who are alienated in an educated urban community because of their profession.”

Since 2008, Karnataka has witnessed more than 75 deaths of manual scavengers, most of whom died of asphyxiation while cleaning septic tanks. In the last 10 years, there have been 635 sewer-deaths in total, across the country.