Sanitation workers' safety was made an important component by the Union Housing and Urban Affairs ministry of its Swachh Survekshan 2022. The decision was taken to prevent deaths due to the cleaning of sewers and septic tanks.
The aim was to encourage cities and towns to adopt mechanised cleaning and also plan for the safety and welfare of people involved in the work, said an official.
Maintaining anonymity, the official said, "We have now scaled up the challenge by incorporating it in the Swachh Survekshan 2022. The idea is to have a common 24×7 helpline number where people can call for getting their septic tanks cleaned. Ideally, workers should not enter to clean the sewers. But if they have to enter, they should be provided proper gear and it should be done under supervision".
Another official informed that the setting up of a Responsible Sanitation Authority (RSA) under the district magistrates, an operational 24×7 helpline (14420) for mechanised cleaning, training, and rehabilitation of workers, etc. as part of the plan.
The ministry had launched SafaiMitra Suraksha Challenge last year as a pilot initiative in 246 cities to encourage civic agencies to adopt mechanised cleaning of sewers and septic tanks and the safety of sanitation workers. The results of the challenge are expected of November 19.
The government had in February told the Parliament that 340 people had died while cleaning sewers and septic tanks in the last five years. In July, it informed that no death due to manual scavenging was reported in India while adding that 941 workers had died while cleaning sewers and septic tanks in the last three decades.
The helpline (14420) is currently operational in 345 cities, according to the ministry. 31 States and Union Terrorists have established the RSA and 210 cities are having the Sanitation Response Units.
Only the Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) can participate in the Swachh Survekshan. In many cities, the sewerage system is managed by agencies under the state governments.
Another official informed that in cities like Delhi, Chennai, Bengaluru, Shimla, Greater Hyderabad, and Guwahati, the sewerage system was under parastatal bodies, which the ministry is trying to bring under the purview of Swachh Survekshan.