Kolkata, June 27, 2012: The Mamata Banerjee government will soon launch a drive to find out the number of people involved in manual scavenging and offer them alternatives, the move coming days after the Centre pulled up the state for its failure to curb the humiliating practice. Chief secretary Samar Ghosh is scheduled to hold a meeting tomorrow with officials of the backward classes welfare, urban development, municipal affairs and panchayat departments to frame guidelines to eliminate manual scavenging. “Recently, the Centre informed the state that the 2011 census has revealed that Bengal still has 2.84 lakh dry latrines. It was estimated that about 10,000 to 12,000 people are still engaged in manual scavenging.
The Centre has asked the state to initiate measures to curb the practice immediately,” a senior official at Writers’ Buildings said.The Centre had introduced the Manual Scavengers and Construction of dry Latrines (Provisions) Act, 1993, to curb manual scavenging. But the census last year revealed that the practice still persists in 50 per cent of the states. According to senior Writers’ officials, the task of locating manual scavengers will be tough as the state does not have proper information on where the practice still persists. “In 2008-09, the state sent a report to the Centre, saying that there was no manual scavenger in Bengal as the practice was banned. But the Centre did not buy the argument and asked the state to find out people involved in manual scavenging and rehabilitate them,” a senior official said.The state government did not carry out any survey at that time before submitting the report, the officials said. After this, the state hurriedly conducted a survey and found that 6,708 people were still involved in the practice. “The state had rehabilitated 3,935 persons in 2009-10. The rest of the people had refused to accept the state’s offer,” the official said.
He said the government had given a one-time financial assistance and loans as part of the rehabilitation package. “With at least 7.2 lakh water-sealed latrines being constructed in the state every year, the number of dry latrines and the people involved in cleaning those should have come down,” the official said. According to sources, the government has decided to expedite the implementation of the Total Sanitation Campaign — a flagship programme of the central ministry of drinking water and sanitation — in rural areas and convert dry latrines into water-sealed ones. In urban areas, all civic bodies will be asked to launch a drive to find out whether any dry latrine is located in their zones. “To convert dry latrines in urban areas into water-sealed ones, the civic bodies should send a proposal to the central ministry of housing and urban poverty alleviation within two-three weeks seeking funds,” another official said. The backward classes welfare department has suggested the state include all manual scavengers in the BPL list. (Source: Pranesh Sarkar, Jan Sahas)