Fact-find Report on the death of two persons engaged in the cleaning of a soak pit in Kenchammana Hoskote, Alur Taluk, Hassan District
'One of the darkest blots on our development process is the fact that even after 64 years of independence, we still have the heinous practice of manual scavenging. Today, I would like you to pledge that this scourge will be eliminated from every corner of our country in the next six months.'
(Prime Ministers Speech at the Inaugural Session of the Conference of State Ministers of Welfare and Social Justice)
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On 9th July, 2011, of the four persons employed to clean a kakkas gundi (soak pit) at the Poornarama Coffee Estate at Kenchammana Hoskote, Alur Taluk, Hassan District, two of them, Shri Mahadeva (aged about 30 years) and and Shri Arjun (Aged about 21 years) died of asphyxiation. The matter was report in the newspapers including “The Hindu”.
The PUCL constituted a fact finding team consisting of Prof Ramdas Rao, Dayanand T.K., Raghupathy S. and Maitreyi Krishnan to inquire into the incident. To this end, the Team, on 11th July 2011, conducted the fact-finding mission and visited the families of the deceased persons, the Deputy Commissioner and the jurisdictional Police Station.
On 9th July, 2011 around 2.30 pm four workers from Sakleshpur were called by the owners of Poornarama Coffee Estate at Kenchammana Hoskote, Alur Taluk, Hassan District to clean the soak pit that was in the estate. The soak pit was 10-12 feet in height with 1 foot filled. It is to be noted that this entire area has no Underground Drainage system, and the excreta is collected in soak pits, and cleaned when they become full. The work is done by workers physically entering into the soak pits and immersing themselves in the excreta while and manually removing the same from these pits.
The incident as narrated to the Team by Muruga, who is an eye-witness to the incident, and who had also gone to perform the work is as follows:
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Three of the workers were blood relatives, with Mahadeva being Muruga's older brother, and Arjuna, their cousin. Muruga who narrated the incident who was still visibly disturbed having witnessed the gruesome death of Arjun and Mahadeva. He also informed us that he had given this same statement to the police, who had visited the spot.
The aftermath of the incident, according to Varalakshmi, Municipal Councillor
We also Smt. Varalakshmi, Member of the Sakaleshpur Town Municpal Council in whose ward jurisdiction, Mahadeva, Arjun and Muruga reside. She informed us that immediately after the incident, around 5.30 pm, the Tahsildar, the Local MLA, H K Kumaraswamy, the President, Shri C. Nanjaiah, Adi Dravida Abhivrudhi Yuvaka Sangha (the local organization in the area in which the workers reside) and other members of the organization visited the spot of the incident.
According to Shri Krishna, member of the Adi Dravida Abhivrudhi Yuvaka Sangha, the owner of the Poornarama Coffee Estate, Shri Sujay Gowda had provided Rs. 20, 000/- towards funeral expenses, and had agreed to pay the family of each of the deceased Rs. 2.5 lakhs by the 12th-13th July, 2011. As on the date of the visit, the Team found that no such compensation had been given to the families of the deceased.
According to Smt. Varalakshmi, the tehsildar has assured Madha’s surviving family of 3 children (wife doesn’t live with the family) of all benefits accruing to Madha. The Social Welfare dept. has promised to sanction one Ashraya site to each family and other admissible benefits.
However, no compensation was being given to Muruga who had also inhaled the gases and has breathing problems, and is also disturbed having witnessed the death of his brother and cousin.
Response of the District Administration
The Team visited the Deputy Commissioner, Hassan District, Shri K. G. Jagadeesh. He informed us that he was not aware of the said incident, until we mentioned it to him.
On the state of manual scavenging in the district of Hassan, he informed us that according to the inspection there were no persons employed for manual scavenging in the district. However, after having received this information on the death and on the basis of the report of the Assistant Commissioner, he would look into this aspect again. While a large part of the district did not have UGD coverage, he said that wet toilets with connected tanks and soak pits were being used in the district. He said that in the urban local bodies, steps towards obtaining machines to perform this work were in progress, however the rural areas had not been provided with any such machines.
He mentioned that the implementation of the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993 and the rehabilitation scheme made under this Act was in progress. However, only persons who feel under the criteria specified in the scheme would be entitled to the package and workers who had taken up this work recently would not be covered under it.
A meeting of the department officials, civil society representatives and groups working for the rights of manual scavengers has been fixed by the Deputy Commissioner on 30th July, 2011 to look into the issue of Manual Scavenging.
According to the Assistant Commissioner.......??
Response of the Police
It goes on to state that Mahadeva slipped in the wet mud and fell into the pit, and Arjun who went to save him also slipped and fell in. Muruga and Manja tried to save them with a rope, but were unable to do so. This is contrary to what we were informed by Shri Mahadeva who had categorically said that Mahadeva and Arjuna had entered the pit to clean it, and having inhaled the noxoius gas had fallen inside the pit.
We were informed by the concerned police official that since the complaint given by Muruga said that the incident was an accident, no case under Section 304-A could be registered.
The Team brought to the notice of the Police Officer the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993 which penalizes any person who employs any other person for manually carrying human excreta, and that the said complaint squarely attracts this prohibition. Shri Muddhuraj Y. informed us that he would immediately look into this matter to see if the said case attracted this provision, and would immediately invoke the said section upon consultation with his superior officers. We also spoke to the Deputy Superintdent of Police, Alur Taluk over the telephone, who informed us that he would look into the matter and give appropriate directions to the concerned Investigating Officer.
The Team would like to point out that firstly, the narration of incidents by Shri Muruga to the team is contrary to that provided in the UDR Report. Secondly, although the provisions of Section 304-A of the Indian Penal Code which deals with causing death by negligence the same has not been invoked, and in fact no FIR has been registered in this regard. Thirdly, although the provisions of the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993 are directly attracted in the case, since the complaint itself discloses that the workers had gone to the spot to manually clean the kakkus gundi (soak pit), and the offence under the Act is cognizable, no case under this Act has also not been registered. This lack of registering of an FIR when serious cognizable are so clearly made out is of grave concern, and it is absolutely essential that the same is registered and the persons responsible for the death of the workers are not allowed to go scott-free.
Living Conditions of Madiga community in Sakleshpur
The Madiga community where the families of the deceased powrakarmikas reside, live in very poor conditions. There are 150 families living in17 municipal-owned quarters divided into smaller habitations to accommodate growing families. They have lived here for many generations, and moved in here when it was a barren hill, infested with wild animals. It was a burial ground then. (Yet they have not been given khata deeds, despite living there for more than 50 years.) The colony has no proper roads, inadequate water supply and electricity. Only after a lot of pressure have some basic amenities been provided. Most of them work as powrakarmikas and manual scavengers. We were informed that the condition in Alur district was even worse than the situation in Sakaleshpur, where manual scavenging is being carried out regularly in the area by contract powrakarmikas. They informed us that both men and women perform the work of manual scavenging, and women enter the pits to remove the human excreta.
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She told us that there are no dry latrines in the area, but only wet latrines; the UGD has not been tried out in the area because of its hilly terrain. One sucking machine has been bought and is operating normally under a trained employee.
According to Varalakshmi, there’s no caste discrimination of any sort in Sakleshpur. No caste atrocity has taken place in this town, though it persists in surrounding villages.
Application of the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993
The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993 was enacted in the year 1993 to bring an end to the degrading, dehumanising and obnoxious practice of manual scavenging which involves persons physically and manually removing human excreta with hands and carrying the excreta from the latrines or pits to the dumping sites. The dehumanising practice of manual scavenging is closely interlinked with untouchability, with only persons belonging to dalit communities performing this work.
The Ministry of Home Affairs has issued Advisory to States/UTS and Concerned Ministries/Departments to Check Crimes against SC/ST, noting that that manual scavenging still persists in India despite being outlawed. The advisory noted that no one has been punished in 17 years of the existence of the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993.
The Government of India being deeply concerned on the continuance of this shameful practice which violates human dignity and Articles 14, 17, 21 and 23 of the Constitution and would therefore re-emphasize that urgent action should be taken by the State Governments and UT Administrations to completely eradicate this practice, requires that urgent action be taken by the State Governments and UT Administrations on the following:-
• Vigorous and conscientious enforcement of the statutory provisions and the existing legislations relating to crimes against Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes should be undertaken. It is reiterated that manual scavenging is punishable u/s 14, read with Section 3(1)(a), of the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines(Prohibition) Act,1993. However, the enforcement of the Act by State Governments/ UTs is generally lax.
• Further, in terms of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes ( POA) Act, 1989, any act done to violate the dignity of a member of a Scheduled Caste or a Scheduled Tribe by a non-Scheduled Caste or non-Scheduled Tribe person would amount to an offence under Section 3 (1) (iii) of the Act. It may be noted that engaging or employing a member of a Scheduled Caste or a Scheduled Tribe to clean, handle or carrying human excreta amounts to violating his or her dignity and therefore, may fall within the ambit of Clause (iii) of Sub Section (1) of Section 3 of the Act. Therefore, such cases of manual scavenging may be pursued under appropriate Sections of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989
Although the official stand of the Government of Karnataka is that there are no persons working as manual scavengers in the State, the reality of the situation is completely different and show that this abhorrent practice is rampantly present. Despite the law being in force, and the advisory having been sent, the blatant violation of the law continues in full force. The lax nature in which the officials have failed to register any complaint also reveals the reluctance to implement the statute.
Observations of the Team
1. The practice of manual scavenging is in rampant practice. This is not the first such accident and definitely not the last.
The 'accident' that resulted in the death of the two workers of the Madiga community once again reinforces that the abhorrent practice of manual scavenging is very much present in the State of Karnataka. The information provided by Shri Muruga the survivor from the incident, clearly shows that the workers had been employed by the owners of the Poornarama Coffee Estate at Kenchammana Hoskote, Alur Taluk in order to remove the human excreta from the kakkas gundi (pit), with their bare hands. They were provided with absolutely no safety equipments, no gloves, face masks, bunny suits. The usage of kakkas gundis implies dry latrines.
The death of the two workers were a result of the violation of the Employment of Manual Scavenging and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993, by the owners of Poornarama Coffee Estate and the failure to implement the Act by the District Administration of Hassan District.
This incident clearly shows that the practice of manual scavenging that is prohibited continues to be practiced rampantly. Not only does it continue to be practiced, but even when such instances come to light, no action whatsoever is taken. In fact, The powrakarmikas we met in Sakalaeshpur informed us that they were not even aware that this practice had been banned.
The denial of the District Administration that no persons are working as manual scavengers is also without force. According to the Deputy Commissioner, there is no Underground Drainage in entire area. Machines are available only in select urban areas and not available at all in rural areas. In fact according to a report submitted by the Yojana Nirdeshakaru, Hassan Zilla Nagarabhivrudhikosha (???), there are 'nil' sewerage workers employed in Alur.
This begs the question, how is the work being done, if neither machines nor human beings are performing the same?
1. It is essential that the practice of Manual Scavenging must be immediately stopped, and the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993 be enacted with a war-footing
2. The meeting to be held by the Deputy Commissioner should address and review the implementation of the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993 and look into the present conditins of persons performing the work of manual scavenging, cleaning of sewers, manholes ad all other forms of manual scavenging, and develop an action plan to eradicate the practice in entirety, and providing all persons permanent jobs with the government, and other steps towards uplifting them.
3. A survey be conducted of all person performing the work of manual scavenging and their living and social conditions.
4. The schemes should be implemented, and every single person performing the work of manual scavenging, irrespective of the time period for which they have performed this work be provided the rehabilitation scheme formulated under the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993
2. No penal action or investigation
With regard to police action, the fact that the complaint relied on by the police to register a UDR is contrary to the information provided to us by Shri Muruga, makes the entire enquiry deeply suspect. The death of Shri Mahadeva and Shri Arjun is the direct result of the failure of the district administration to perform its duty and the violation of the law by the owners of Poornarama Coffee Estate, and this difference appears be in an attempt to make the workers responsible for their own death in order to let the real culprits go scott-free.
The failure of the Police officials to register any case against the employers despite a clear case being made out under Section 304-A of the Indian Penal Code, the Employment of Manual Scavenging and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993, and the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, also betrays the partisan nature of the Police, and their refusal to perform their constitutional duties. It must be stressed that when an offence is categorically made out, it is the duty of the police to immediately register the crime and investigate into the matter, and the failure to do so amounts to their failure to perform their constitutional obligations and statutory duties.
Hence, it is necessary that a criminal case for offences under the Indian Penal Code, the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993 and the Scheduled Caste and Scheudled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act be immediately registered against the owner of Poornarama Estate.
3. No compensation
Firstly, when the Team had visited the families of the deceased two days after the inident, no compensation had yet been paid to them. The Team was informed that the families were to be paid compensation of Rs. 2.25 lakhs, which is abysmally low. The death of Shri Mahadeva and Shri Arjun is the direct result of the failure of the district administration to perform its duty and the violation of the law by the owners of Poornarama Coffee Estate. It is essential to note that, when similar incidents occurred in Bangalore and K.R.Nagar in Mysore District, the Administration in each of the cases agreed to award compensation of Rs. 5 lakhs, a house and a government job to the families of each of the deceased. Further, the surviving workers, Muruga and Manja who were both affected by the noxious gases that have long term health impacts, and who were witness to the gruesome death of their blood relatives have not been paid any compensation whatsoever. It appears that this compensation is in the nature of a private settlement and a compromise worked out by interested intermediaries to buy silence from the victim families. This package doesn’t absolve the state and its agencies of their primary responsibility to provide full compensation to the survivors.
It cannot be permitted that persons who blatantly violate the law and are responsible and liable for the death of workers, are left to go free by merely paying 'compensation'.
1. Adequate compensation should be immediately provided to the families of the deceased and a compensation should be provided to Shri Muruga and Shri Manja, who survived this accident.
2. The District Administration provide the rehabilitation scheme formulated under the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993 to the families of the deceased
3. The district administration provide one member of the family of the deceased with a permanent job, and a house for the family.
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