All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU) and CPI(ML) held a protest on 22 August at Jantar Mantar, Delhi, against death of sanitation workers inside sewers in national capital. In a span of 35 days ten workers have died inside sewers despite ‘hazardous cleaning’ being illegal as per the provisions of ‘The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Act, 2013’. It is very unfortunate that the waste generated by a huge urban population is handled in most unscientific and inhuman ways. Sanitation workers employed for maintenance of sewer lines are undoubtedly one of the most exploited workforces in the country, the atrocious caste system coupled with zero safety and concern for working class have made the lives of sanitation workers very difficult.

The protest was attended by workers from several unions as well as student and social organizations. Comrade Santosh Roy, President, AICCTU Delhi said, “These deaths are not accidental, these are examples of institutional murder. The governments have failed to intervene because of which humans are forced to go inside sewers. Swachh Bharat Abhiyan was meant for cleaning India but it is killing workers, and poor people are being extorted in the name of prevention of open defecation. Modi is completely lilent on the fate of sanitation workers.” Comrade Roy stressed the need of building stronger unity among the workers to combat the dual enemies of caste and class. The protesters demanded that no worker should be sent down the sewer lines and institutional responsibility must be fixed for all the ‘sewer deaths’. They also demanded that manual scavenging and hazardous cleaning must be completely eliminated and measures for rehabilitation of manual scavengers and sewer-ling workers should be proactively taken-up. It was also stressed that the nexus of contractors and government agencies in denying the workers safety and proper service conditions should immediately come to end and those found guilty of violating the laws concerning hazardous cleaning must be punished.

Comrade Amar Singh, General Secretary, Delhi University SC/ST Employees Association told about precarious working conditions of sanitation workers especially contractual workers. The gathering was also addressed by Dharamvir Singh Parcha of SC/ST Minority Organization, Amber of AISA, Rajesh of DTC Workers’ Unity Centre and Satbir Shramik of CPI(ML). It was resolved that the protests would be intensified in coming days and campaigns would be undertaken by AICCTU in coordination with other organizations and unions in Delhi.