Another Manual Scavenging Death: Man Dies Cleaning Mumbai Sewer

Ahmed Ansari is one of at least 90 people who have died in 2017 during manual scavenging, an act prohibited by law.

3 min read
Manual scavenging is prohibited by law in India, but continues in many parts. Image for representational purposes.

A manual labourer lost his life while cleaning a sewer pipeline at Sassoon Docks in Mumbai on 31 October. Ahmed Ansari was cleaning the sewer pipeline in Mumbai's Port Trust area when he fell unconscious.

DCP Manoj Kumar Sharma told The Indian Express:

Three workers were cleaning the sewer pipeline. When the chamber began to emit gas, they fell unconscious. They were rushed to St George Hospital. However, one of the workers lost his life. 
Manoj Kumar Sharma, DCP 

According to the report, residents alleged that Ahmed's death was a result of negligence on the part of the contractor. Shiv Sena co-ordinator Krishna Pavle told the daily:

An art festival has been planned at the Sassoon Docks next month, and since foreigners are expected they are cleaning the area. However, no safety equipment like masks, gloves or coat were provided to the workers. While crores of rupees are sanctioned by the government for MbPT development, it is not being used to provide well-equipped machinery
Krishna Pavle, Co-ordinator, Shiv Sena to The Indian Express

An FIR has been registered against the contractor under Section 304 (A) of the Indian Penal Code, for causing death by negligence.

Manual Scavenging: Prohibited By Law

Employment of persons for manual scavenging is prohibited in India under The Prohibition Of Employment As Manual Scavengers And Their Rehabilitation Act, 2013.

The act clearly prohibits the employment of manual scavengers.
The act clearly prohibits the employment of manual scavengers.
(Photo Courtesy: Section 5, Prohibition Of Employment As Manual Scavengers Act, 2013/Screengrab)

A 2014 Supreme Court order extended this to include sewer workers under this law. The order came, following a petition filed by Bezwada Wilson and his organisation, Safai Karamchari Andolan, which works to eradicate manual scavenging.

Manual Scavenging is Prohibited, But Is It Really?

Wilson said that despite the law, the reality is vastly different. The Magsaysay award winner adds that at least 1,370 manual scavenging deaths have occurred since 1993. Only 80 of the families of these workers have received compensation so far, reports The Wire.

However, what Union Minister for Social Justice, Thawar Chand Gehlot said to The Hindustan Times in this report, indicates that the problem may run much deeper:

 Union Minister for Social Justice, Thawar Chand Gehlot in August 2017.
Union Minister for Social Justice, Thawar Chand Gehlot in August 2017.
(Photo: The Quint)

Ahmed Ansari is just one of thousands who work as manual scavengers, a line of work that has been explicitly prohibited under the law, but continues to exist. Despite the number of manual scavenging deaths, The National Crime Records Bureau stated, in 2015, that there had been no deaths linked to manual scavenging that year. told

Bezwada Wilson told The Quint in 2016:

There is no political will to implement the anti-manual scavenging law. The Government is choosing to ignore the issue altogether by refusing to record it.

(With inputs from The Indian Express and The Wire)

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