Emerging issues of Sanitation Workers and Manual Scavengers

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  • AjitSeshadri
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  • Marine Chief Engineer by profession (1971- present) and at present Faculty in Marine Engg. Deptt. Vels University, Chennai, India. Also proficient in giving Environmental solutions , Designation- Prof. Ajit Seshadri, Head- Environment, The Vigyan Vijay Foundation, NGO, New Delhi, INDIA , Consultant located at present at Chennai, India
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Re: Emerging issues of Sanitation Workers and Manual Scavengers

Dear SuSANA Members,

I feel pleased that certain points raised by me on the  Emerging issues of Sanitation Workers and Manual Scavengers, and their working and living conditions, have been brought out well by Esteemed Susana Member - Ar. Paresh.
Main points that have been mentioned by Member,  are 5 Nos. and need a detailed review by the Authorities and other communities:

Mentioning them in this summation, will make the information detailed and  become complete; 
1.  Low wages, PPE not made available by contractors
   A lot needs to be done, in bringing awareness and participation in communities, to place these works done by sanitation workere at a premium, more so to be held at par with jobs done by Electrical Technicians and others. 
The jobs to be done under care and supervision by approved contractor, with the use of PPEs and safety practices Etc. 

2.  Lose job if they talk to reporters, let them take pictures.
The work needs to be done in the open, like all other civic cleaning work Etc.  If necessary rules and guidelines are not followed, then the concerned are reprimanded and rules followed.

3.  Caste-based discrimination in schools --> dropouts
This needs to be done with more care, as it deals with communities that have been doing this works for many years. However, due respect and regard is to be ensured given and education and others are allowed to be given without any discrimination Etc. If done, duly the defaulters are penalized. 
  
4. Manual scavengers die very young: 
This data holds good even to this day, necessary safe ans secure conditions are ensured so that the sanitation workers given preventive, medical care and not subjected to prevalent occupational hazards in septic tank systems Etc. 
 
5. Deaths due to manual scavenging often not reported as such --> lack of data --> invisibility in policy making.
The operational data on sanitation workers and cleaning operations is to be kept transparent and civil administrations should be held accountable and responsible for any accidents or any other untoward incident happening, in this regard. 

General :
Regularly awareness and guidelines on safe work- practices, to be given in the form of training and made aware.
Due respect and regard to be given to the nature of work and the status of the work force Etc.

The above notings  issued in the interest of the working community, and their well being for betterment of society in particular.

With well wishes, 
Prof. Ajit Seshadri 
Susana Member. 
The Vigyan Vijay Foundation, NGO. New Delhi. 
    

 
Prof. Ajit Seshadri, Faculty in Marine Engg. Deptt. Vels University, and
Head-Environment , VigyanVijay Foundation, Consultant (Water shed Mngmnt, WWT, WASH, others)Located at present at Chennai, India
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  • paresh
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  • Budding WASH researcher, especially interested in governance, public policy, finance, politics and social justice. Architect, Urban & Regional planner by training, Ex. C-WAS, India. I am a patient person :)
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Re: Emerging issues of Sanitation Workers and Manual Scavengers

Thank you professor Sheshadri for sharing the article . ("In Photos: The Short, Tragic Lives of India's Sewer Cleaners. The task of cleaning human faeces often falls on Dalits, a community deemed the lowest in the ancient Hindu caste system."); it captures the grim reality and the photographs are mind-numbing and moving to put it mildly. 

Summarising the issues faced by manual scavengers highlighted (explicitly or implicitly) in the article here:
  • Low wages, PPE not made available by contractors
  • Lose job if they talk to reporters, let them take pictures
  • Caste-based discrimination in schools --> dropouts
  • Manual scavengers die very young
  • Deaths due to manual scavenging often not reported as such --> lack of data --> invisibility in policy making
Regards
paresh
Paresh Chhajed-Picha
Researcher at Indian Institute of Technology - Bombay, India
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Twitter: @Sparsh85
Wikipedia: Sparsh85

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  • AjitSeshadri
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  • Marine Chief Engineer by profession (1971- present) and at present Faculty in Marine Engg. Deptt. Vels University, Chennai, India. Also proficient in giving Environmental solutions , Designation- Prof. Ajit Seshadri, Head- Environment, The Vigyan Vijay Foundation, NGO, New Delhi, INDIA , Consultant located at present at Chennai, India
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Re: Emerging issues of Sanitation Workers and Manual Scavengers

Dear Susana Members,
Wish to give an impression of the latest happenings in Sewer tank cleanings , it is for information of Members

Pl source the article given below :
https://www-vice-com.cdn.ampproject.org/c/s/www.vice.com/amp/en/article/akd9wz/photographs-of-manual-scavengers-india-deaths-m-palani-kumar

With well wishes,
Prof. Ajit Seshadri 
Prof. Ajit Seshadri, Faculty in Marine Engg. Deptt. Vels University, and
Head-Environment , VigyanVijay Foundation, Consultant (Water shed Mngmnt, WWT, WASH, others)Located at present at Chennai, India
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  • arkaja
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Re: Emerging issues of Sanitation Workers and Manual Scavengers

Thanks Prof Seshadri.

I've been curious about manual scavenging in Chennai city limits, and about the Chennai Metro Water Supply and Sewerage Board (CMWSSB), and am wondering whether you know more about it? In a Madras High Court case in 2008, the court went quite far in getting CMWSSB to detail out it infra, machinery (for mechanical cleaning), protective equipment and safety protocols (for physical entry), and listed specific instances only in which manual entry was to be permitted. I wonder whether there was any result on the ground as a result of that case? (It could be that the directions of the court needed to be translated into local SOPs etc., and perhaps the activists were not able to get it done, but maybe they did.)

Another example, which we are more familiar with is the one from Malaysia, which we refer to in our podcast. All the safety protocols and SOPs have been developed in their case, but we need to work out how that sort of system would be implemented in our case. The almost total informalisation and ad hoc nature of of manual scavenging work in India these days is quite an issue, it makes it even more difficult to introduce a formal protocol, but we need to make sure its the engineer (and not the worker or the site supervisor) who is responsible for the safety protocol.
I am a lawyer by training and I am currently responsible for managing a programme on sanitation (SCI FI, or 'Scaling City Institutions for India') at the Centre for Policy Research. My current work is focused on the role of law and regulation for inclusive water and sanitation. I lead and manage research on various aspects of non-network sanitation, informal service provision, and its institutional and socio-economic dimensions.

My other interests and areas of work include: urban governance and policy, land, urban poverty, low-income informal settlements, environment law and water resources.
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  • Marine Chief Engineer by profession (1971- present) and at present Faculty in Marine Engg. Deptt. Vels University, Chennai, India. Also proficient in giving Environmental solutions , Designation- Prof. Ajit Seshadri, Head- Environment, The Vigyan Vijay Foundation, NGO, New Delhi, INDIA , Consultant located at present at Chennai, India
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Re: Emerging issues of Sanitation Workers and Manual Scavengers

Dear CPR Researchers -

After viewing Episode 25 : How sanitation work can be made safer and eradicate manual scavenging etc., opine that it is well compiled and gives us an ideal way to approach the subject. And to be frank, this definitely gets us to be in the same position as we were before, ie no respite on accidents and deaths which are happening in this sector.

Can we access and assess information at varied Municipalities or sectors where in this sanitation work, there has not been any untoward incident, injuries or deaths etc. Can we source this data and try to study it- As to how it has been managed safely and securedly for extended time, with what type of fail- safe systems have operated, guidelines, rules, procedures with SOPs for systems and SWOPs - PPEs for personnel etc.

Some specific details could be drawn and guidelines made on the lines of systems and personnel working on drinking water, HT Electric transmission lines etc.
This could be a starter, for a country like India..

The above request issued for doing good in communities,
well wishes
from Prof. Ajit Seshadri, School of Maritime Studies. Vels University, Chennai , India
Prof. Ajit Seshadri, Faculty in Marine Engg. Deptt. Vels University, and
Head-Environment , VigyanVijay Foundation, Consultant (Water shed Mngmnt, WWT, WASH, others)Located at present at Chennai, India
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Re: Emerging issues of Sanitation Workers and Manual Scavengers

Sanitation worker definitely does not have the same meaning as manual scavenger. A manual scavenger - in terms of the current definition - is anyone who has to manually handle human excreta that is not fully decomposed, without protective equipment. An older version of the definition applied mainly to people cleaning human excreta from dry latrines, but the current version covers sewer workers, septic tank cleaners etc also.

Agreeing with Depinder that the rights based perspective is very important. Manual scavenger issues, and deaths from manual scavenging work, would have remained invisible if it was not for the rights based perspective. But there's more that needs to be done, the eradication of manual scavenging cannot remain only the work of the community organisations, but should be the business of the entire sanitation community.

Here is a link to a podcast that I made along with a colleague, where we talked about manual scavenging from a legal, engineering and sanitation policy perspective: www.cprindia.org/news/7266 . I hope you will find it useful, and do let me know if you have questions or comments.
I am a lawyer by training and I am currently responsible for managing a programme on sanitation (SCI FI, or 'Scaling City Institutions for India') at the Centre for Policy Research. My current work is focused on the role of law and regulation for inclusive water and sanitation. I lead and manage research on various aspects of non-network sanitation, informal service provision, and its institutional and socio-economic dimensions.

My other interests and areas of work include: urban governance and policy, land, urban poverty, low-income informal settlements, environment law and water resources.
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Re: Emerging issues of Sanitation Workers and Manual Scavengers

Analysis of persona and a laundry list of potential actions is good information but not very useful in terms of knowing what is happening on the ground or understanding where to start, with whom and how.

However, that is what most of our work, as support agencies is about - analysis and suggestions. Taking a Rights perspective on this issue is also tricky for several NGOs, hence this vocabulary is missing from the Dalberg work.

Lessons need to be drawn from practitioners, from the movements and activists who have been working on the issue of manual scavenging and sanitary workers - the Safai Karamchari Andolan has been its leading proponent in India at the national level and there are several local level initiatives as well. It will be worthwhile to document what they have done in the last 5-10 years, what issues they took up in which sequence and what is their prioritisation of demands and actions today. Sadly this is completely missing from the otherwise good documentation done by Dalberg.

The story of the movement of sanitary workers of India - as told by the Safai Karamchari Andolan - is very well told in their animation and their website includes a rich resource of memorandums and actions undertaken.

www.safaikarmachariandolan.org/movement
Depinder Kapur is Director Water Programme at Centre for Science and Environment. He has taight at Shiv Nadar University and has lead the Sanitation Capacity Building Platform(SCBP) of National Institute of Urban Affairs. His professional engagements have been with AKRSP(Program Officer Forestry), SPWD(Sr. Program Officer), CARE(Director NRM), Oxfam(Program & Advocacy Director), WaterAid India(Country Head) and WSSCC(National Coordinator) and as an independent consultant.

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  • nityajacob
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Re: Emerging issues of Sanitation Workers and Manual Scavengers

Hi Elisabeth,

You can contact Nirat, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. who leads the WASH practice. Regarding their suggestions, they are all good. My concern is the people we are trying to 'help' are the poorest and most illiterate. The first step would be to give them work unconnected with scavenging - casual labourers, headloaders, etc., so they can get used to other occupations. Then put them through non-formal education. Personal enhancements will have to be tempered by their limited physical abilities as they are often poorly nourished and incapable of much physical labour. Being born to poor, illiterate women also stunts mental development. Therefore, training and other well-meaning schemes for a general population will not work with them. What I am saying is one has to start at below ground zero without expectations of any dramatic results.

Sanitation workers are not the same as scavengers. They sweep streets and clean toilets and drains. They do not enter septic tanks or sewers without protective gear, that manual scavengers do, nor do they carry shit in baskets. So you are right when you say they are not all scavengers.

Strangely enough, the moment a person becomes technically qualified (engineering or vocational degree) to run a sewage plant or vacuum truck, he/she is considered to be socially acceptable. A manual scavenger could thus leave the past behind by learning to drive a sewage vacuum truck or even becoming and entrepreneur. But the odds are loaded against him/her because these entrepreneurial routes are taken by the richer, who then corner the market and block others from entering.

There are at least 4 kinds of sanitation workers that I have found to be engaged in cleaning. The regular sweepers, employees or municipalities or panchayats who are paid a monthly salary and are eligible for pension when they retire are the top of the food chain. The ad hoc sweepers, who are taken for a few months and paid a monthly salary but are not eligible for pension because they only work for a few months at a stretch. The deputed sweepers, who are 'hired' by the first category of workers to do their job and paid a small amount; these get no benefits or monthly wage but a daily wage. The manual scavengers who physically, without equipment, enter drains and septic tanks to clean them by hand; these are paid by the job and get no other benefits.

To find solutions, I would focus on the two latter categories. Enumerate, accept they exist, develop a training/upliftment plan and execute. The problem is since the 2013 Act banning scavenging, authorities have simply refused to accept their existence.

Regards,
Nitya
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  • Marine Chief Engineer by profession (1971- present) and at present Faculty in Marine Engg. Deptt. Vels University, Chennai, India. Also proficient in giving Environmental solutions , Designation- Prof. Ajit Seshadri, Head- Environment, The Vigyan Vijay Foundation, NGO, New Delhi, INDIA , Consultant located at present at Chennai, India
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Re: Emerging issues of Sanitation Workers and Manual Scavengers

Rules ought to be made for " sanitation worker / facilitator " similar to plumbers and electricians who are in Government Departments .
Safe work practices for persons with personal protective equipmnt or gear ensured worn.
Safe operating practices on equipmnt ensured safe and secure for working on.
Labour rules to be followed for Rest / work patterns and payments commensurate with work &:responsibility etc..
All the above and other benefits afforded for all sanitation facilitators.
Well wishes.
Prof. Ajit Seshadri, Faculty in Marine Engg. Deptt. Vels University, and
Head-Environment , VigyanVijay Foundation, Consultant (Water shed Mngmnt, WWT, WASH, others)Located at present at Chennai, India
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  • Elisabeth
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Re: Emerging issues of Sanitation Workers and Manual Scavengers

Thanks for pointing out this video. It led me to their website: sanitationworkers.org/

On the About page it says: "The Sanitation Workers Project is a structured, first-of-its-kind 5-month long study of sanitation workers across India carried out by Dalberg Advisors in 2017, with the support of The Gates Foundation."

Do you have any connections to anyone at that project? I'd like to talk to them about putting their reports in the SuSanA library and adding their video to Wikimedia Commons. Strangely, neither the "contact" nor the "blog" section of their website seems to work, leaving me at a loss regarding how to contact them!

I am always interested in getting the terminologies straight: On their website they talk about 5 million sanitation workers in India. The term "sanitation worker" is meant to replace "manual scavenger" one to one, meaning all sanitation workers are manual scavengers? But looking at the types of sanitation workers (see here: sanitationworkers.org/profiles/ ) not all of them would be manual scavengers.

E.g. they include people working at treatment plants in the group of sanitation workers. Surely that kind of job is not comparable and much better than someone emptying out a septic tank by hand? In other countries, operators of treatment plants is a fairly well respected job (not super, but OK) and requires at least an apprenticeship or further training. E.g. I know that in Australia and Germany being a treatment plant operato is regarded as an alright occupation (especially now that treatment plants have become such automated, high tech operations). - Is that not the case in India? Perhaps there the operation of a treatment plant involves still more manual labor?

Note that the term "sanitation worker" in other countries mainly refers to garbage collection personnel (see here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waste_collector ).

It's quite interesting how the Dalberg project presents several worker personas here: sanitationworkers.org/profiles/worker-personas/
- Reluctant inheritor
- Complacent part-timer
- Caged bird
- Trapped traditionalist
- Transient hustler
- First among equals

What do you all think of these personas? Is that helpful in the analysis and search for solutions?

They present a range of interesting solutions here: sanitationworkers.org/solutions/

- More and Better Budgeting
- Institutional Strengthening
- Regulatory Revisions
- Safe Sanitation Public Awareness
- Access to Schemes and Benefits
- Breaking the Family Legacy
- Enabling Entrepreneurship
- Employment Connect
- Smart Sanitation System
- Sanitation Hardware Design
- Issue Resolution Mechanisms
- She-safe
- Sanitation Worker Sandbox
- Behaviour Change Program
- Effective Contract Design
- Sanitation Worker Registry

Regards,
Elisabeth
Dr. Elisabeth von Muench
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Re: Emerging issues of Sanitation Workers and Manual Scavengers

One more resource, from Dalberg on sanitation workers. Take a look at the video
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Re: Emerging issues of Sanitation Workers and Manual Scavengers

Dear all
This has been interesting. While I work on the synthesis document, if you have any burning issues you want to raise, please add to the discussion thread.
Nitya
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