The IT capital’s confidence in manual scavengers is a dirty secret. To take action against citizens who hire private service providers to clean pits and septic tanks, the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) is working on setting up a hotline. The aim is to register agencies and service providers who offer desludging and cleaning services and to take action against those who break the law. This happens one year after the board has decided to oblige citizens to hire service providers that it has certified.
An internet search for service providers for cleaning pits and septic tanks brings up hundreds of results, with many companies offering “mechanical cleaning”. However, activists claim that this cleaning is not deprived of human intervention, as agencies are also hiring cheap labor.
The Board’s efforts appear to be reaching an impasse, however, and there is next to no response to its appeal to private service providers. The BWSSB made two public announcements asking private service providers to attend a certification meeting and set a price for various services. Most companies focus on outskirts of the city where there is a lack of sanitary infrastructure.
BWSSB officials admitted the response was bad on both occasions. While only eight service providers attended the first session, twelve attended the second.
“We received the list of these private service providers from a private company. However, most of the numbers listed are either unreachable or incorrect, and some of the addresses were incomprehensible, ”said a BWSSB official.
KB Obalesh, State Congress of Safai Karmacharis Kaval Samiti, said the effort was part of the center’s Safai Mitra Suraksha Challenge. “Around 240 cities from across the country are taking part in the challenge, including Bengaluru and six other cities in Karnataka,” he said.
Pointing out that there were many problems with private agencies providing such services, Mr Obalesh said security precautions were often not in place, resulting in death.
“The BWSSB needs to record the type of equipment used by these agencies, the capacity of the blasting and suction machines, the safety equipment provided to the cleaning staff and the security provided to them,” he said, adding that many agencies did not respond the call to the BWSSB only because they feared they might make a loss if interest rates were fixed. “After all, feces is now like ‘gold’ for these service providers,” he said.
“Predominant in at least 98 districts”
There is no clarity on the number of people involved in manual cleaning. While activists working for the welfare of the manual scavengers set the number at 25,000, a pilot survey in six districts, including Bengaluru, identified a total of 1,720 manual scavengers.
KB Obalesh, State Congress of Safai Karmacharis Kaval Samiti, said manual flushing was widespread in at least 98 wards that lack sanitation. The BWSSB had around 150 blasting and suction machines. “Only about 100 are used by the board, which is totally inadequate to cover the city. It is for this reason that citizens are hiring private service providers, ”he said.
He claimed that there was no coordination between Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), BWSSB, the Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) and the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB). The BBMP was tasked with surveying and identifying manual scavengers in order to rehabilitate them for alternative duties.
In the first survey conducted in May 2013, only 201 manual scavengers were identified. Another survey was conducted in the Rajarajeshwarinagar, Mahadevapura, South, West and East Zones, where 1,138 manual scavengers were identified.
According to SG Raveendra, BBMP Special Commissioner (Welfare), the third survey focusing on the outer zones is almost complete. “The number of manual scavengers is being rechecked for three zones including Yelahanka and Dasarahalli,” he said.
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