No more sewer deaths in India! Now we have 'Hope', an innovative machine introduced on the occasion of World Toilet Day by Sulabh International Social Service Organisation. Hope is to ensure a minimal and safe dive of sewer cleaners into sewer lines
It was indeed a historic day for India this World Toilet Day when the crusader of sanitation and social reform Dr Bindeshwar Pathak, founder of Sulabh International Social Service Organisation, unveiled ‘Hope’ – a machine that is here to end the menace of sewer cleaners.
Hope is such a sewage cleaning machine that will do away with 99 per cent of manual scavenging in the country. For the remaining one per cent, Sulabh also introduced technologically pro equipments: Sewer Quick View Pipe Inspection Camera which can give an overview of the situation under, and a gas detection machine which will determine the hazardous gases there.
Dr Pathak said the new machine is ideal for periodic mechanical desilting of manholes and to flush out sewer lines using the powerful jetting pump capable of producing 150 bar operating pressure and a flow of 150 litres per minute.
Putting End to Soul-Chilling Data
These days we often hear the tragic news about so many sewer workers losing their lives while working inside the sewer. It is almost as risky for a person to step into a manhole to unclog sewer lines in India as it is for the jawans braving the bullets on the borders of the nation. At least one Indian worker has died while cleaning sewers or septic tanks every five days since the beginning of 2017, according to the first official government statistics on the work, considered one of the country’s deadliest jobs and most insidious form of caste discrimination. However this data is considered palpably underestimated. Magsaysay award-winner Bezwada Wilson’s Safai Karmachari Andolan has been collecting data on those who dive into putrid sewer lines only to be tragically fished out as corpses. Since 2010, there have been 356 such deaths, or about 44 every year. This annual average was outstripped in 2017 when India’s sewage system killed at least 90 people by September itself.
Given the statistics and the more than often news of sewer deaths, it has been a grave matter of concern for the nation for ages now. And so, Sulabh International decided to organise the World Toilet Day 2018 on the theme of “Safety Measures for Cleaning Sewers to Prevent Deaths of Sewer Workers” at Mavalankar Auditorium in New Delhi.
No More Sewer Deaths!
Making the welcome address on the occasion, Dr Bindeshwar Pathak said, “Today the three mayors of Delhi are present here. I am really happy to have them as what I am discussing is their topic of interest. The World Toilet Day that we are celebrating here has a huge contribution from Anil Khaitan. He had written to me pointing out the sewer death tolls and asking for a solution. Similarly, when I was coming from Patna on October 25, Sharad Yadav (Ex MP) too asked me for a solution for the same. I said ‘yes, there is a solution’. He asked ‘why aren’t you doing anything then? You are a pioneer person in the sanitation field’. So then I said ‘okay, let me do something about it, with your blessings’.”
That was October 25 and the came November 19. Within 24 days machines worth Rs one crore were brought from China to India and from Pune to Delhi. The sewer cleaning machine introduced has such technology with which the sewers can be scanned prior hand as to how much water or silt are there. All can be observed from outside only and nobody will have to step into the manholes. The machine also comes with proper equipments – dress, mask, etc from safety point-of-view – for just in case someone has to enter the sewer line for some reason. “All the corporations, municipalities who deal with this should either buy the machine on their own or else have Sulabh do it so that we can ensure there are no sewer deaths. Now that this machine is here, no more people will die in sewer lines. There will be no more sewer deaths,” said Dr Pathak.
Fair Wage to Labours
Pointing out that the amount of money paid to the labour is very minimal because of which the quality of work deteriorates, Dr Pathak said, “When I built the first toilet in Patna in 1974, the carpenter who had come to fix the doors asked for Rs 49 per piece. I told him that I’ll give Rs 55 per piece. He was surprised and thought I was kidding. I assured I am serious about it. I gave him a piece of paper and asked him to write that if anything needs repair within three years it will be done free of cost. It’s been 44 years since then and the toilets have the same doors till date. So, a fair wage is an important aspect.”
Recalling the olden days, Dr Pathak said when he set foot into the field of sanitation in 1968, nobody wanted to utter the word ‘toilet’ or talk about it. Whenever he tried making a conversation about toilets with anyone, they would say ‘let us first have tea because after discussing ‘toilets’, the tea may taste weird’. People used to call him ‘Toilet-man Bindeshwar Pathak’ in a sarcastic manner as though it was a taboo, but now they say the same with a tone of respect and amaze. His efforts also led to the emancipation of manual scavengers.
Dr Pathak has made sewer safety a reality: Manoj Tiwari
Speaking on the occasion, Manoj Tiwari, Delhi BJP President who presided over the event, said, “It is a very historic day today. You may be already aware that till now the people who worked into sewer lines, to ensure that the sewers are clean and not choked even in an area with a population like that of 2.5 crore in Delhi, died of the poisonous gases in the lines. It is the government’s responsibility that they ensure that the people entering the sewer lines are well-equipped so that the poisonous gas cannot harm them; they should have such machines that can pre-detect the situation inside.
All these suggestions have often popped up in discussions, but if anyone has tried to bring them to ground reality then it is Dr Bindeshwar Pathak. He has brought such machines to our notice.”
He informed that he has already urged the three MCD mayors present on the occasion to order these machines as soon as possible. He said that no matter sewer comes under whose area of concern MCD can buy the machine and equip whoever enters the sewer line.
Urging people to change their mindset around toilets, Tiwari said, “The thinking we are stuck with in our minds regarding toilets should change. All the dirt, the apathy towards safai karamcharis (cleaners), such thinking and mentality should be served with a tight slap of reality from the authorities, the government and the citizens.”
Approach comes from brilliant minds like Dr Pathak: Prof Saket Kushwaha
Addressing the gathering as the Special Guest of the occasion, Professor Saket Kushwaha, vice-chancellor of Rajiv Gandhi Central University (Arunachal Pradesh), said, “I see Gandhi alive within Dr Pathak. Mahatma Gandhi expressed his visions and thoughts through his books but the spirit to live by those words – be it about eradicating untouchability and casteism, and giving people their right to live the way they want – is in the rarest of the rare people and I see that in Dr Pathak in form of a very simple personality.”
“The machine that we all saw today came all the way from China within 25 days. A lot of people have money but the approach to do such things does not come with it. It comes with brilliant minds like Dr Pathak… I met Usha Sharma (at Sulabh Gram). From Usha Chaumar she became Usha Sharma, on first knowing this I immediately knew that such a thing can be done only by Dr Pathak,” he added.
Kushwaha told that he has separated a fund, through contribution, to give admissions to the children of the border martyrs and the ‘sewer martyrs’. He has urged to give priority to these children during admissions. He also promised that come November 29 he will introduce the courses of Sanitation Sociology and Gandhian Studies in Rajiv Gandhi Central University (Andhra Pradesh).
Skill Development of sewer cleaners be done: Manhar Valjibhai Zala
Speaking on the occasion as a guest of honour, Manhar Valjibhai Zala, chairman of National Commission for Safai Karamcharis, said, “I feel really happy that a modern machine, brought by Dr Pathak, was inaugurated today. When I tour the nation, I ask the officers to avoid sending people into sewer lines for cleanliness. It should be mechanised. If ever they have to be sent, then they should dive with all safety equipments so that their lives can be saved. Today what Dr Pathak said has touched my heart that ‘from now on, there will be no more deaths in sewers’.”
Adding on to the recommendation of Dr Pathak around fair wages, Zala urged when the mechanisation happens, the people who used to dive into sewer line to earn a living for their family should be given the job to handle these machines so that their livelihood sustains. For this their skill development be also done.
For the Welfare of Sanitation Workers
Anil Khaitan, chairman of SNK CORP and former president of PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry, graced the ocassion as a guest of honour. While addressing the gathering, he told that he had written a letter to Dr Bindeshwar Pathak expressing his concerns over the increasing tolls in sewer deaths. Dr Pathak responded to it with his viewpoints. The two sanitation campaigners then merged their viewpoints and a letter was penned to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union ministers Nitin Gadkari and Arjun Ram Meghwal.
Expressing his concern for the sewer workers, he said, “The term ‘life’ indicates something more than mere animal existence. Thus, the sewer workers are entitled to a life of dignity, a life of fulfillment, a life of satisfaction.”
“In my view, mechanised cleaning of both septic tanks and sewers with adequate safety measures in place is the ideal solution to the problem at hand,” he added.
Khaitan also urged people to ensure small-small efforts from their ends that can together paint a bigger picture.
Of India, South Africa & USA
Also present on the occasion as a guest of honour was Dr Nilangshu Bhusan Basu, Principal Chief Engineer, Kolkata Municipal Corporation, who presented a detailed slide show on ‘A Problem and Success Story of Kolkata’ under the name of Dr Bindeshwar Pathak, Professor K J Nath and himself. In this, he focused on urbanisation as the major cause of making any problem out of proportion because of a huge conglomeration of people there, and the eventual high generation of waste. He stated that Urbanisation + Increased Rainfall = Crisis!
He drew comparisons between major cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Surat, Kolkata and parts of the state of Tamil Nadu. He then talked of the drainage system of Kolkata, the relevance of sewer workers and legislation, the current scenario of Kolkata and displayed the realistic tragedies. He went on to give the proposed remedies, and told of the success stories of Kolkata sewers after the immense efforts and work done to make sewers free of silt for easing the water woes, through the trenchless sewer lining projects undertaken by the Kolkata Municipal Corporation.
The World Toilet Day event of Sulabh was also graced by some special guests from the foreign who shared their views in the field of sanitation and lauded the contribution of Dr Bindeshwar Pathak and his Sulabh organisation.
“We wish to highly commend his excellency Dr Pathak and his esteemed associates in Sulabh International, firstly, for their belief in human rights and dignity which is stronger than steel, secondly, for working steadfastly to realise Mahatma Gandhi – the world icon of peaceful non-violence struggle’s vision – to free more than 20 million untouchables from bonded labour and to abolish untouchability of those rejected and discriminated against for handling human excreta.
We wish Dr Pathak and Sulabh International perseverance and fortitude in carrying out your noble cause of instituting safety measures for cleaning sewers to prevent the deaths of sewer workers,” said Dikobe Ben Martins, Deputy Minister of Public Enterprises, South Africa.
“I am associated with Sulabh International through Sulabh South Africa. We are very humbled that Dr Pathak, a pioneer of women empowerment and women emancipation, took a decision to extend his sanitation programme to South Africa.
The programme started in rural school in South Africa restoring toilets which were very much in terrible conditions.
Children in South Africa who did not have toilets would hold it when their nature calls until they get home. So definitely that disturbed the learning during the day. Through Sulabh programme, the children are now able to go and use the bathroom. For that we are very much thankful,” said Dr Busiwana Winnie Martins, Director, Community Centre for Justice and Development, South Africa.
“Proper sanitation is a human rights issue. When you have it, it also improves health for everyone; it also contributes to poverty alleviation; and it restores human dignity. We are hoping through Sulabh South Africa that we will have the second biggest toilet facilities in South Africa. I think that would be natural, considering that we shared the same world icons Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. So it’s only natural that we shall have the second biggest toilet facilities outside India in South Africa,” she added.
“It is an honour and privilege to be here on this important day of celebrating humanity, of recognising human rights and of dedicating ourselves to those rights. The significance of this day is embodied in the untiring work of Dr Pathak. That work recognises the dignity and the worth of all humanity.
The theme ‘Safety Measures for Cleaning Sewers to Prevent Deaths of Sewer Workers’ directly ties this event and this work to the work of the Civil Rights Movement and of the work of Dr Martin Luther King Jr… who lost his life supporting sanitation workers and fighting for their rights. So there is an inextricable connection between this work and the work of civil rights and human rights in the United States,” said Professor Johnny Mack, Stanford University, USA.
The guests were welcomed in traditional Sulabh manner with garlands, bouquets, shawls and were presented with Sulabh’s two-pit model’s miniature as a memento. On the occasion, school children performed a street play on the importance of toilets and also put a vivid exhibition on display with innovative ideas around sanitation. The children also enthusiastically participated in various competitions held by Sulabh. Later, the winners of the competitions were given awards by the guests.
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