Sanitation workers go hi-tech as govt. goes slow

Groups seek contracts to maintain sewerage systems safely
When Maya’s husband died in a sewer in the north-western Delhi suburb of Rohini in 2002, she was left with four small children and no means of livelihood. After years of scrounging, odd jobs, and dependence on relatives, she is now prepared to become an independent businesswoman — in the same line of business that cost her husband’s life. “I want to make sure no one else has to go through what I went through. We have started Safai Karamchari Enterprises so that no one else will die in the sewers,” she told The Hindu on the sidelines of the India SaniTech Forum on Saturday.
Taking the initiative
With governments and municipalities slow to move toward mechanised cleaning of the sewage system even in the face of rising death rates — an average of one person has died cleaning sewers or septic tanks every five days since January 2017 —the safai karamchari community is taking the initiative to provide alternatives. Sanitation workers have joined hands with family members of those killed while cleaning sewers and septic tanks to set up limited liability partnership companies in Delhi and Hyderabad, backed by the Safai Karamchari Andolan (SKA) movement. Other groups are in the process of registering companies in Haryana, Uttarakhand and Punjab. “In many cases, municipalities do not take the initiative, so we are now working on giving loans to self-help groups and SKA-backed enterprises to buy equipment and machines,” said National Backward Classes Finance and Development Corporation managing director K. Narayan. The Delhi enterprise has started talks with the Delhi Jal Board on the possibility of a sanitation contract, says SKA convenor Bezwada Wilson, who adds that the capital’s municipalities have no machines apart from suckers. Workers are still required to manually clean sewer lines and manholes daily, he says.
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