Monday, January 10, 2005

Manual scavengers crave for alternate employment

Jaipur: Fifteen-year-old Reeta's eyes light up at the mention of sending her to a sewing class. She would love to do anything else to earn a living than help her mother with the stench-filled job of disposing human filth.

Reeta has been cleaning toilets that have no flushing facilities every morning ever since she was nine. She carries the heavy load on her head to a distance of about a kilometre before dumping it at an isolated spot.

With a family of nine members to support, and with her father Rajesh injured in an accident some time ago, there was no way Reeta could allow her mother to do the job alone or think of even continuing with school.

Therefore, the mention of an alternative means of livelihood makes her eyes shine with hope, reports Grassroots Features.

"A sewing class - oh yes I'll love to go. Do you think I can actually sew clothes and earn a livelihood? Can this be a reality?" she exclaims.

Chanda, who like Reeta belongs to the Balmiki community, overcomes her nausea for the stench-filled job by chewing on tobacco.

Though this work is difficult, hazardous and degrading, Chanda, 25, cannot quit as she has no alternate means of livelihood. Her husband has been jobless for quite some time. Most of the time she is the only regular earning member in her family of three, including a small child.

Chanda and Reeta along with several other manual scavengers live in Indira Colony - a world of dirt and squalor - not far from the picturesque Jal Mahal (Water Palace) in Jaipur.

The Balmiki community faces the worst discrimination as the work is considered most degrading. Even some dalits consider families like hers untouchables.

Maya, who lives in Orain town of Uttar Pradesh, has a similar story and a similar routine. Maya cleans the toilets of 40 families and gets Rs.10 (23 cents) per family per month, earning a meagre Rs.400 ($9) for her lowly job.

Though it is more than a decade since the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993, was passed prohibiting construction of non-flush toilets and employing scavengers, these people have still to be given alternative means of employment.

At the time of the enactment of this legislation or soon after, the total number of scavengers in the country was estimated at 653,000.

A National Scheme of Liberation and Rehabilitation of Scavengers and their Dependants was launched in 1992 by the government.

A review of this scheme in 2003 by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) in 2003 said, "Achievements so far at best can be described as sporadic, uncoordinated and generally poor, without the strength required for catalysing the future course."

The CAG report mentions estimates of scavengers that are somewhat higher than what is given in plan documents while the number of rehabilitated people is lower than what is provided in the plan documents.

It says, "As against 600,000 scavengers identified in urban areas, the ministry reported having liberated only 37,340, i.e. 6.2 percent."

More than Rs.6 billion ($138 million) was spent under the National Scheme of Liberation and Rehabilitation of Scavengers and Their Dependants in the last decade.

In other words about Rs.10,000 per scavenger has already been spent by this single scheme, apart from additional funds spent to help weaker sections/scheduled castes.

According to the CAG report in Andhra Pradesh, an inspection revealed that 24 of the 28 rehabilitation units in Cuddapah district, which were financed during 1997-98 at a unit cost of Rs.80,000 to Rs.100,000 each, were non-existent.

In Assam, Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal, the beneficiaries who were assisted under the scheme were not listed in the survey records.

Source: Indo-Asian News Service, January 10, 2005

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