Discussion:
From Tehelka-- Life Inside A Black Hole
(too old to reply)
Chan Mahanta
2007-12-05 03:21:08 UTC
Permalink
Life Inside A Black Hole

Beneath the glitter of India are dark alleys in
which are trapped poisonous gases and millions of
Dalits who do our dirty job in return for disease
and untouchability. S. ANAND reports

Yeh suhana mausam, yeh khula aasmaan, kho gaye
hum yahaan, haye, kho gaye hum yahaan... (This
lovely weather, these wide open skies, we are
lost in the bliss, oh, we are lost here..)
Click here to view slide show

IN THE Radio Mirchi television commercial, a
paan-chewing man in a safari suit is shown
wondering what keeps the man down in the manhole
so happy that he should sing. Zooming in on the
trousers and footwear left beside the manhole
cover, the tagline says: "Mirchi Sunnewaale?
Always Khush". Conceived by Prasoon Joshi of Mc-
Cann Erickson, the ad has been on air for close
to two years now without a murmur of protest from
viewers or civil rights groups. Perhaps the idea
that even the faceless manhole cleaner is happy,
listening to FM radio, is comforting. A Radio
Mirchi official believed the ad would "elicit the
maximum amount of laughter." A blogger praised
the ad for its "simple concept, beautiful
execution, high recall value." After all, we
develop a capacity to be blind when we see an
open manhole and "men at work".

What is the weather really like inside a manhole?
What happens to the shit, piss and other waste
flushed down by 18.02 percent of the billion-
plus population - those with the luxury of a
water closet facility in India according to
Census 2001? What is the fate of the lakhs of
Dalits forced to do sanitation work? At least
22,327 Dalits of a sub-community die doing
sanitation work every year. (see box). Safai
Kamgar Vikas Sangh, a body representing
sanitation workers of the Brihanmumbai Municipal
Corporation (BMC), sought data under the Right to
Information Act in 2006, and found that 288
workers had died in 2004-05, 316 in 2003-04, and
320 in 2002-03, in just 14 of the 24 wards of the
BMC. About 25 deaths every month. These figures
do not include civic hospital workers, gutter
cleaners or sanitation workers on contract.
Compare this with the 5,100 soldiers - army,
police, paramilitaries - who have died between
1990 and 2007 combating militancy in Jammu &
Kashmir.

It is only in the fantastic world of Hindi cinema
- Don, Dhoom-2 - that a character nonchalantly
enters a drain and emerges unscathed. In Delhi,
on May 6, 2007, three men - Ramesh (30), Santosh
(32) and Ashish (35) - died of asphyxiation in a
manhole in Dabri. Subcontracted by the Delhi Jal
Board (DJB), Ansal Constructions had employed
three migrant workers from Uttar Pradesh to enter
the clogged manhole. With no prior experience,
they inhaled noxious gases, and died instantly.
The Dabri deaths merited a routine mention in
some dailies. In July 2006, when six-year-old
Prince Kumar Kashyap fell in a 50- feet deep
borewell pit in Haldheri village, Haryana, and
was rescued by the army, it became national news.
The rescue was televised, with Chief Minister
Bhoopinder Singh Hooda, Kurukshetra MP Naveen
Jindal and others camping at the site. Prince
received gifts worth Rs 7 lakh. The Times of
India headlined him as the "Rural Page 3 kid".
However, a Dalit dying in a sewer is a non-event.

The men and women - invariably Dalits - who
ceaselessly manage to keep our cities, towns and
villages clean, die every day around us. We never
notice their lives or deaths. These are the
soldiers who, bereft of the honour of uniform and
the posthumous glamour of martyrdom, sacrifice
their lives making sure the rivers of filth flow
unhindered. Forced to touch, immerse themselves
in - and perforce taste - the fermented faeces of
millions, they are condemned to untouchability.
The genocide passes unnoticed since there are a
million invisible Dalits who will quietly take
the place of the dead.

THE BELLY OF THE BEAST
What does this beast that gobbles human lives
look like? Who feeds it? In Delhi, it is a
humongous many-mouthed subterranean creature - a
network of 5,600 km of sewers with about 1.5 lakh
manholes, managed by the DJB - which consumes
2,781 million litres of thesewage Delhi generates
daily. The journey begins from kitchens,
bathrooms and toilets through four-inch house
drains that empty into the main sewer. The 9-inch
trunk sewers carry the slush to bigger lines of
2m to 3m diameter. This network of pipes is laid
below ground level with "sufficient gradient" to
ensure a "selfcleansing" velocity of about 1
metre per second.Reared on a mixed diet of
domestic, commercial and industrial wastewater,
with stormwater drains sometimes hitching a ride
and burdening its mangled intestines, the beast
develops serious indigestion every day. It is
indiscriminately fed a wide range of objects that
causes clogs - condoms, sanitary pads,
nondegradable thermocol, a variety of plastics,
industrial sludge, kitchen waste, toilet cleaning
acids, medical waste (syringes, blades, even
placenta), glass shards, household gadgets,
construction debris. It is then that the 5,500
beldars- as sewer workers are designated by the
DJB- enter its bowels. (In Chennai, the sewerage
network spreads across 2,800 km with 80,000
manholes- a manhole every 35 metres.) The
indigestion produces a variety of gases. When
sewage decomposes and ferments in a stagnant
state, hydrogen sulphide is formed .

Known as sewer gas, it has a distinctive smell of
rotten eggs. Overexposure to this gas can cause
olfactory fatigue - an inability to detect its
odour - which most manhole workers suffer from.
Hydrogen sulphide, which is explosive, acts as an
irritant and asphyxiant, affecting oxygen supply
to the brain and stem cells. More than 100 parts
per million (ppm) of this gas in a manhole can
result in instantaneous suppression of
respiration. Less than 10 ppm, which is routine,
can result in conjunctivitis and headaches.

METHANE IS the other lurking danger. Not only
does it displace oxygen, it is also explosive.
Provided with no gasdetecting devices, most
manhole workers have ingenuous methods of
checking the concentration of these toxic gases.
After opening the manhole cover, they let it vent
a while, then light a match and throw it in. If
there's methane, it burns out. Once the fire
abates, the worker prepares to enter. Sateesh, a
DJB worker from Nandnagari, reveals another
strategy: "After opening the cover, we check if
the cockroaches are alive. If they are dead, we
leave the sewer open for some time and then
enter." Roaches are not known to die easily.

Entering the narrow, dark drain, the worker
pushes his only weapon, the khapchi - a spliced
bamboo stick - to dislodge the block. This
exercise could take hours. "Holding our breath,
closing our eyes, we plunge headlong. We feel our
way poking with the khapchi," says Sateesh. It is
then that a sudden blast of putrid sludge -
besides methane, hydrogen sulphide, carbon
dioxide and carbon monoxide - assaults the
person. "Even if we manage not to swallow the
toxic muck, it manages to enter our bodies."
Odourless and colourless, the carbon gases can
cause suffocation. If the worker survives the
initial ordeal, he crouches inside and loads the
sludge into leaky metal buckets or wicker baskets
for his team to haul out. Depending on the clog,
the entire operation could take up to 48 hours.
"We often work after midnight. When people sleep,
the flow in the sew- ers is lesser, and our work
does not disturb road-users," says Sateesh. Among
sewer workers, there's a category called
"divers", whose brief is to swim through the
large pipelines, find the blocks, and clear them.

According to Ashish Mittal, an occupational
health physician who co-authored Hole to Hell, a
2005 study of sewer workers by the Centre for
Education and Communication (CEC), New Delhi, a
manhole is "a confined, oxygen-deficient space
where the presence of noxious gases can cause
syncope - a sudden and transient loss of
consciousness owing to brief cessation of
cerebral blood flow. The brain cannot tolerate
even a brief deprivation of oxygen. The long-term
neurological effects of syncope can be
debilitating." In most developed nations, manhole
workers are protected in bunny suits to avoid
contact with contaminated water and sport a
respiratory apparatus; the sewers are well-lit,
mechanically aerated with huge fans and therefore
are not so oxygen deficient. In Hong Kong, a
sewer worker, after adequate training, needs at
least 15 licences and permits to enter a manhole.

In India, the manhole worker wears nothing more
than a loincloth or half-pants. In Delhi, since
the directives of the National Human Rights
Commission in October 2002, the majority of the
DJB's permanent workers wear a "safety belt".
It's a joke. This belt, connecting the worker
through thick ropes to men standing outside,
offers no protection from the gases and the sharp
objects that assault the worker. At best, it
helps haul them out when they faint or die. The
CEC's 2005 survey of 200 DJB manhole workers
found that 92.5 percent of the workers wore the
safety belt. This did not prevent 91.5 percent of
them from suffering injuries and 80 percent
suffering eye infections. The survey found that
diseases like leptospirosis, viral hepatitis and
typhoid were common. "During the course of our
six-month study, three of the 200 workers died,"
recalls Mittal.

KM Chabukswa, 50, a manhole worker with the BMC
since 1981, says: "After the work, there is no
provision for water to clean ourselves. We end up
walking a kilometre looking for water. We are
prone to every possible disease; workers take to
drinking or doing drugs to get over the atrocity
of the job." Another BMC worker, Gautam Jadhav,
33, says: "I suffer from sinus; my eyes swell up.
I recently had typhoid. No one likes standing
next to us because of the stink."

NOT SURPRISINGLY, most of the workers die before
retirement. Owing to loss of appetite and
inevitable alcoholism, many men shrink to half
their size if they work 20 years. The average
lifespan of a manhole worker is about 45. And if
a worker does not die inside a manhole, the civic
body does not offer any monetary compensation for
illnesses/deaths owing to occupational hazards.
In Delhi, permanent workers get a monthly "risk
allowance" of Rs 50. In some states this rises to
Rs 200. The entry-level salary of a sanitation
worker in New York is $30,000 per year. In the
sixth year, he could earn $67,141 (Rs 2.18 lakh
per month). In India, a permanent sanitation
worker with 20 years experience could make Rs
12,000 ( $ 300) a month.

THE ILLOGIC OF REFORM
Human rights activists, Marxists, Gandhians,
journalists, NGOs, lawyers and courts have always
believed that the work of safai karamcharis,
especially that of manhole workers, must be
"humanised" and "mechanised" to minimise contact
with waste. This school of "amelioration and
reform" says working conditions must be improved,
that safai karamcharis should be paid minimum
wages, provided with insurance cover, masks, gum
boots, bunny suits, oxygen cylinders and other
safety equipment. "It's like saying a woman
should be raped only after she is allowed to wear
her bridal best and covers her face with a veil.
The point is, Dalits should not be going down
these drains at all. Provided with bunny suits
and Rs 50,000 per month, will Brahmins start
immersing themselves in these sewers?" asks
Parshottam Vaghela, a Balmiki activist who runs
Manav Garima in Ahmedabad.In Ludhiana, when two
sewer workers died this July, the corporation
provided 50 safety kits to about 800 workers. The
kit included a mask that weighed 18 kg. The
workers could not get down into 12-inch diameter
manholes with such a weight. In Delhi, workers
were provided with a "mandatory gas cylinder"
that weighed an unwieldy 13 kg. "It made things
worse. It's like tying us with a millstone and
pushing us down the sea of slush," says DJB
worker Rajinder Kumar. According to Mittal,
"Given that three entries into the manhole: to
fix the rod, to make it work, and to detach it,"
says Jassubhai Atmaram, 42, who has been working
in the Sabarmati area of Ahmedabad for 21 years.
The few supersucker machines cannot enter narrow
lanes; even a metro like Delhi has only three of
them. In response to a special civil application
filed by Ahmedabadbased NGO Kamdar Swasthya
Suraksha Mandal, the Gujarat High Court ordered
in February 2006 that "unless it is absolutely
necessary to have sewage cleaning operation done
through a human agency, none of the civic bodies
in the state will now employ human agency to
carry out drainage cleaning operation."

Despite the HC order, workers have been entering
Gujarat's manholes on a routine basis. HP Mishra,
who heads KSSM, says, "Fourteen workers have died
inside manholes between March 2006 and August
2007." Of these, 12 died as contract workers
despite the HC order also stating that "civic
bodies are directed to discontinue the practice
of engaging contractors."

Like other sectors in post-liberalisation India,
sewer cleaning, construction and maintenance of
sewage treatment plants and sanitation work are
being privatised in many cities and towns.
Whether contractors offer a minimum wage or
implement even the prescribed safety norms -
themselves laughable - is not monitored. The
State simply washes its hands of the dirty
business.

For instance, in 2003, the Chennai Metropolitan
Water Supply and Sewerage Board outsourced "250
sewer divers for working in 161 depots of CMWSSB
for removal of sewer obstructions in the sewer
system, silt removal from manholes and allied
works for one year." The contract was bagged by
KK Kumar Constructions for a bid of over Rs 1
crore.

According to the Bangalore Water Supply and
Sewerage Board Sanitary Workers Union, there are
only 88 manhole workers in the Karnataka capital.
Says union president Lakshmaiah, "When we started
the union in 1982, Bangalore officially had 385
manhole workers. BWSSB does not want to recruit
since it prefers
privatisation and outsourcing."

WHAT IS the solution? Governments over six
decades have bypassed the issue. While Nehruvian
India saw a great push towards technological
solutions in every sector, the State only had
apathy for safai karamcharis. It is not the lack
of funds or technology that poses problems. If
technology can be used to launch satellites and
the Rs 386- crore Chandrayaan (the mission to
moon), why can it not be used for garbage and
sewage? The Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewal
Mission (JNURM), hatched by the Ministry of Urban
Development in 2002, envisages spending Rs
1,20,536 crore over seven years on urban local
bodies. Of the projects approved so far under the
JNURM, 40 percent have been allotted for drainage
and sewerage work. Why does so much money get
spent on laying/relaying pipes and drains that
are designed to kill? India's urban planners,
designers and technologists have never felt the
need to conceive a human-friendly system of
managing garbage and sewage. Instead, they rely
on an unending source of disposable, cheap, Dalit
labour.

-with Shalini Singh in Mumbai, M. Radhika in
Bangalore and PC Vinoj Kumar in Chennai
From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 4, Issue 47, Dated Dec 08 , 2007
umesh sharma
2007-12-06 10:25:46 UTC
Permalink
Is it just a caste issue? If someone else were made to go int there is it okay?

Umesh

Chan Mahanta
Tue, 04 Dec 2007 19:21:49 -0800

Life Inside A Black Hole

Beneath the glitter of India are dark alleys in
which are trapped poisonous gases and millions of
Dalits who do our dirty job in return for disease
and untouchability. S. ANAND reports

Yeh suhana mausam, yeh khula aasmaan, kho gaye
hum yahaan, haye, kho gaye hum yahaan... (This
lovely weather, these wide open skies, we are
lost in the bliss, oh, we are lost here..)
Click here to view slide show

IN THE Radio Mirchi television commercial, a
paan-chewing man in a safari suit is shown
wondering what keeps the man down in the manhole
so happy that he should sing. Zooming in on the
trousers and footwear left beside the manhole
cover, the tagline says: "Mirchi SunnewaaleŠ
Always Khush". Conceived by Prasoon Joshi of Mc-
Cann Erickson, the ad has been on air for close
to two years now without a murmur of protest from
viewers or civil rights groups. Perhaps the idea
that even the faceless manhole cleaner is happy,
listening to FM radio, is comforting. A Radio
Mirchi official believed the ad would "elicit the
maximum amount of laughter." A blogger praised
the ad for its "simple concept, beautiful
execution, high recall value." After all, we
develop a capacity to be blind when we see an
open manhole and "men at work".

What is the weather really like inside a manhole?
What happens to the shit, piss and other waste
flushed down by 18.02 percent of the billion-
plus population - those with the luxury of a
water closet facility in India according to
Census 2001? What is the fate of the lakhs of
Dalits forced to do sanitation work? At least
22,327 Dalits of a sub-community die doing
sanitation work every year. (see box). Safai
Kamgar Vikas Sangh, a body representing
sanitation workers of the Brihanmumbai Municipal
Corporation (BMC), sought data under the Right to
Information Act in 2006, and found that 288
workers had died in 2004-05, 316 in 2003-04, and
320 in 2002-03, in just 14 of the 24 wards of the
BMC. About 25 deaths every month. These figures
do not include civic hospital workers, gutter
cleaners or sanitation workers on contract.
Compare this with the 5,100 soldiers - army,
police, paramilitaries - who have died between
1990 and 2007 combating militancy in Jammu &
Kashmir.

It is only in the fantastic world of Hindi cinema
- Don, Dhoom-2 - that a character nonchalantly
enters a drain and emerges unscathed. In Delhi,
on May 6, 2007, three men - Ramesh (30), Santosh
(32) and Ashish (35) - died of asphyxiation in a
manhole in Dabri. Subcontracted by the Delhi Jal
Board (DJB), Ansal Constructions had employed
three migrant workers from Uttar Pradesh to enter
the clogged manhole. With no prior experience,
they inhaled noxious gases, and died instantly.
The Dabri deaths merited a routine mention in
some dailies. In July 2006, when six-year-old
Prince Kumar Kashyap fell in a 50- feet deep
borewell pit in Haldheri village, Haryana, and
was rescued by the army, it became national news.
The rescue was televised, with Chief Minister
Bhoopinder Singh Hooda, Kurukshetra MP Naveen
Jindal and others camping at the site. Prince
received gifts worth Rs 7 lakh. The Times of
India headlined him as the "Rural Page 3 kid".
However, a Dalit dying in a sewer is a non-event.

The men and women - invariably Dalits - who
ceaselessly manage to keep our cities, towns and
villages clean, die every day around us. We never
notice their lives or deaths. These are the
soldiers who, bereft of the honour of uniform and
the posthumous glamour of martyrdom, sacrifice
their lives making sure the rivers of filth flow
unhindered. Forced to touch, immerse themselves
in - and perforce taste - the fermented faeces of
millions, they are condemned to untouchability.
The genocide passes unnoticed since there are a
million invisible Dalits who will quietly take
the place of the dead.

THE BELLY OF THE BEAST
What does this beast that gobbles human lives
look like? Who feeds it? In Delhi, it is a
humongous many-mouthed subterranean creature - a
network of 5,600 km of sewers with about 1.5 lakh
manholes, managed by the DJB - which consumes
2,781 million litres of thesewage Delhi generates
daily. The journey begins from kitchens,
bathrooms and toilets through four-inch house
drains that empty into the main sewer. The 9-inch
trunk sewers carry the slush to bigger lines of
2m to 3m diameter. This network of pipes is laid
below ground level with "sufficient gradient" to
ensure a "selfcleansing" velocity of about 1
metre per second.Reared on a mixed diet of
domestic, commercial and industrial wastewater,
with stormwater drains sometimes hitching a ride
and burdening its mangled intestines, the beast
develops serious indigestion every day. It is
indiscriminately fed a wide range of objects that
causes clogs - condoms, sanitary pads,
nondegradable thermocol, a variety of plastics,
industrial sludge, kitchen waste, toilet cleaning
acids, medical waste (syringes, blades, even
placenta), glass shards, household gadgets,
construction debris. It is then that the 5,500
beldars- as sewer workers are designated by the
DJB- enter its bowels. (In Chennai, the sewerage
network spreads across 2,800 km with 80,000
manholes- a manhole every 35 metres.) The
indigestion produces a variety of gases. When
sewage decomposes and ferments in a stagnant
state, hydrogen sulphide is formed .

Known as sewer gas, it has a distinctive smell of
rotten eggs. Overexposure to this gas can cause
olfactory fatigue - an inability to detect its
odour - which most manhole workers suffer from.
Hydrogen sulphide, which is explosive, acts as an
irritant and asphyxiant, affecting oxygen supply
to the brain and stem cells. More than 100 parts
per million (ppm) of this gas in a manhole can
result in instantaneous suppression of
respiration. Less than 10 ppm, which is routine,
can result in conjunctivitis and headaches.

METHANE IS the other lurking danger. Not only
does it displace oxygen, it is also explosive.
Provided with no gasdetecting devices, most
manhole workers have ingenuous methods of
checking the concentration of these toxic gases.
After opening the manhole cover, they let it vent
a while, then light a match and throw it in. If
there's methane, it burns out. Once the fire
abates, the worker prepares to enter. Sateesh, a
DJB worker from Nandnagari, reveals another
strategy: "After opening the cover, we check if
the cockroaches are alive. If they are dead, we
leave the sewer open for some time and then
enter." Roaches are not known to die easily.

Entering the narrow, dark drain, the worker
pushes his only weapon, the khapchi - a spliced
bamboo stick - to dislodge the block. This
exercise could take hours. "Holding our breath,
closing our eyes, we plunge headlong. We feel our
way poking with the khapchi," says Sateesh. It is
then that a sudden blast of putrid sludge -
besides methane, hydrogen sulphide, carbon
dioxide and carbon monoxide - assaults the
person. "Even if we manage not to swallow the
toxic muck, it manages to enter our bodies."
Odourless and colourless, the carbon gases can
cause suffocation. If the worker survives the
initial ordeal, he crouches inside and loads the
sludge into leaky metal buckets or wicker baskets
for his team to haul out. Depending on the clog,
the entire operation could take up to 48 hours.
"We often work after midnight. When people sleep,
the flow in the sew- ers is lesser, and our work
does not disturb road-users," says Sateesh. Among
sewer workers, there's a category called
"divers", whose brief is to swim through the
large pipelines, find the blocks, and clear them.

According to Ashish Mittal, an occupational
health physician who co-authored Hole to Hell, a
2005 study of sewer workers by the Centre for
Education and Communication (CEC), New Delhi, a
manhole is "a confined, oxygen-deficient space
where the presence of noxious gases can cause
syncope - a sudden and transient loss of
consciousness owing to brief cessation of
cerebral blood flow. The brain cannot tolerate
even a brief deprivation of oxygen. The long-term
neurological effects of syncope can be
debilitating." In most developed nations, manhole
workers are protected in bunny suits to avoid
contact with contaminated water and sport a
respiratory apparatus; the sewers are well-lit,
mechanically aerated with huge fans and therefore
are not so oxygen deficient. In Hong Kong, a
sewer worker, after adequate training, needs at
least 15 licences and permits to enter a manhole.

In India, the manhole worker wears nothing more
than a loincloth or half-pants. In Delhi, since
the directives of the National Human Rights
Commission in October 2002, the majority of the
DJB's permanent workers wear a "safety belt".
It's a joke. This belt, connecting the worker
through thick ropes to men standing outside,
offers no protection from the gases and the sharp
objects that assault the worker. At best, it
helps haul them out when they faint or die. The
CEC's 2005 survey of 200 DJB manhole workers
found that 92.5 percent of the workers wore the
safety belt. This did not prevent 91.5 percent of
them from suffering injuries and 80 percent
suffering eye infections. The survey found that
diseases like leptospirosis, viral hepatitis and
typhoid were common. "During the course of our
six-month study, three of the 200 workers died,"
recalls Mittal.

KM Chabukswa, 50, a manhole worker with the BMC
since 1981, says: "After the work, there is no
provision for water to clean ourselves. We end up
walking a kilometre looking for water. We are
prone to every possible disease; workers take to
drinking or doing drugs to get over the atrocity
of the job." Another BMC worker, Gautam Jadhav,
33, says: "I suffer from sinus; my eyes swell up.
I recently had typhoid. No one likes standing
next to us because of the stink."

NOT SURPRISINGLY, most of the workers die before
retirement. Owing to loss of appetite and
inevitable alcoholism, many men shrink to half
their size if they work 20 years. The average
lifespan of a manhole worker is about 45. And if
a worker does not die inside a manhole, the civic
body does not offer any monetary compensation for
illnesses/deaths owing to occupational hazards.
In Delhi, permanent workers get a monthly "risk
allowance" of Rs 50. In some states this rises to
Rs 200. The entry-level salary of a sanitation
worker in New York is $30,000 per year. In the
sixth year, he could earn $67,141 (Rs 2.18 lakh
per month). In India, a permanent sanitation
worker with 20 years experience could make Rs
12,000 ( $ 300) a month.

THE ILLOGIC OF REFORM
Human rights activists, Marxists, Gandhians,
journalists, NGOs, lawyers and courts have always
believed that the work of safai karamcharis,
especially that of manhole workers, must be
"humanised" and "mechanised" to minimise contact
with waste. This school of "amelioration and
reform" says working conditions must be improved,
that safai karamcharis should be paid minimum
wages, provided with insurance cover, masks, gum
boots, bunny suits, oxygen cylinders and other
safety equipment. "It's like saying a woman
should be raped only after she is allowed to wear
her bridal best and covers her face with a veil.
The point is, Dalits should not be going down
these drains at all. Provided with bunny suits
and Rs 50,000 per month, will Brahmins start
immersing themselves in these sewers?" asks
Parshottam Vaghela, a Balmiki activist who runs
Manav Garima in Ahmedabad.In Ludhiana, when two
sewer workers died this July, the corporation
provided 50 safety kits to about 800 workers. The
kit included a mask that weighed 18 kg. The
workers could not get down into 12-inch diameter
manholes with such a weight. In Delhi, workers
were provided with a "mandatory gas cylinder"
that weighed an unwieldy 13 kg. "It made things
worse. It's like tying us with a millstone and
pushing us down the sea of slush," says DJB
worker Rajinder Kumar. According to Mittal,
"Given that three entries into the manhole: to
fix the rod, to make it work, and to detach it,"
says Jassubhai Atmaram, 42, who has been working
in the Sabarmati area of Ahmedabad for 21 years.
The few supersucker machines cannot enter narrow
lanes; even a metro like Delhi has only three of
them. In response to a special civil application
filed by Ahmedabadbased NGO Kamdar Swasthya
Suraksha Mandal, the Gujarat High Court ordered
in February 2006 that "unless it is absolutely
necessary to have sewage cleaning operation done
through a human agency, none of the civic bodies
in the state will now employ human agency to
carry out drainage cleaning operation."

Despite the HC order, workers have been entering
Gujarat's manholes on a routine basis. HP Mishra,
who heads KSSM, says, "Fourteen workers have died
inside manholes between March 2006 and August
2007." Of these, 12 died as contract workers
despite the HC order also stating that "civic
bodies are directed to discontinue the practice
of engaging contractors."

Like other sectors in post-liberalisation India,
sewer cleaning, construction and maintenance of
sewage treatment plants and sanitation work are
being privatised in many cities and towns.
Whether contractors offer a minimum wage or
implement even the prescribed safety norms -
themselves laughable - is not monitored. The
State simply washes its hands of the dirty
business.

For instance, in 2003, the Chennai Metropolitan
Water Supply and Sewerage Board outsourced "250
sewer divers for working in 161 depots of CMWSSB
for removal of sewer obstructions in the sewer
system, silt removal from manholes and allied
works for one year." The contract was bagged by
KK Kumar Constructions for a bid of over Rs 1
crore.

According to the Bangalore Water Supply and
Sewerage Board Sanitary Workers Union, there are
only 88 manhole workers in the Karnataka capital.
Says union president Lakshmaiah, "When we started
the union in 1982, Bangalore officially had 385
manhole workers. BWSSB does not want to recruit
since it prefers
privatisation and outsourcing."

WHAT IS the solution? Governments over six
decades have bypassed the issue. While Nehruvian
India saw a great push towards technological
solutions in every sector, the State only had
apathy for safai karamcharis. It is not the lack
of funds or technology that poses problems. If
technology can be used to launch satellites and
the Rs 386- crore Chandrayaan (the mission to
moon), why can it not be used for garbage and
sewage? The Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewal
Mission (JNURM), hatched by the Ministry of Urban
Development in 2002, envisages spending Rs
1,20,536 crore over seven years on urban local
bodies. Of the projects approved so far under the
JNURM, 40 percent have been allotted for drainage
and sewerage work. Why does so much money get
spent on laying/relaying pipes and drains that
are designed to kill? India's urban planners,
designers and technologists have never felt the
need to conceive a human-friendly system of
managing garbage and sewage. Instead, they rely
on an unending source of disposable, cheap, Dalit
labour.

-with Shalini Singh in Mumbai, M. Radhika in
Bangalore and PC Vinoj Kumar in Chennai
Post by Chan Mahanta
From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 4, Issue 47, Dated Dec 08 , 2007
Umesh Sharma

Washington D.C.

1-202-215-4328 [Cell]

Ed.M. - International Education Policy
Harvard Graduate School of Education,
Harvard University,
Class of 2005

http://www.uknow.gse.harvard.edu/index.html (Edu info)

http://hbswk.hbs.edu/ (Management Info)




www.gse.harvard.edu/iep (where the above 2 are used )
http://harvardscience.harvard.edu/



http://jaipurschool.bihu.in/

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