Mains Paper 2: Social Justice
Prelims level: Faecal Sludge Treatment Plants
Mains level: Welfare schemes to the vulnerable sections of the society
The tragic death of six people who entered a septic tank in Tamil Nadu’s
Sriperumbudur town is a grim reminder that sanitation remains a low-priority
area despite the high political profile of Swachh Bharat.
Public understanding of the science of managing septic tanks continues
to be poor, and the availability of cheap labour to clean these structures
has slowed efforts to develop technologies that can safely remove and
transport the waste.
Sanitation thus remains a challenge in thousands of unsewered towns.
What sets the incident apart from the several instances of people dying
of asphyxiation in the tanks is that some of the victims were the owners of
the property and not workers.
Three people collapsed while inspecting their residential septic tank,
and others who tried to save them also perished.
Although workers were not affected in this case, it confirms Tamil
Nadu’s abysmal overall record at raising sanitation standards.
Analysing the data
Since 1993, when the first law was passed against manual cleaning, there
were at least 144 worker deaths in Tamil Nadu as of November 2018.
According to official data reported to the Centre for grant of
compensation. Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab also fared badly with a
cumulative toll of 146 lives lost during that period.
This is obviously a gross underestimate, since the Safai Karmachari
Andolan, which has litigated in the Supreme Court seeking to aggressively
prosecute offenders, contends that septic tank cleaning claimed nearly 1,500
lives between 2014 and 2016.
More reports of deaths continue to come in.
Every death of a manual worker represents a crime, since the Prohibition
of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 makes
the use of such labour to clean septic tanks an offence punishable with
imprisonment of two years or with a fine of Rs. 2 lakh or both even in the
If State governments are reluctant to prosecute offenders, they are also
slow to adopt newer technologies such as Faecal Sludge Treatment Plants (FSTP),
which can be combined with omniprocessors for safe treatment of waste. For
the task of cleaning the tanks, indigenous innovation in robotics looks
A prototype is planned to be tested by the Indian Institute of
Technology Madras and such devices can potentially transform sanitation in
India and other developing countries.
But the pace of adoption will depend on the priority that governments
accord to the long-neglected problem.
Last year, Tamil Nadu, and some other States, notably Andhra Pradesh and
Odisha, announced plans to scale up FSTP infrastructure.
This is a task that deserves the highest importance, and needs to be
completed on deadline.
What happened in Sriperumbudur highlights the heavy price that
communities pay for the lack of scientific sanitation.
If governments remain apathetic, citizens would expect the courts to
step in to uphold the law against manual scavenging and make individual
The science on sanitation has advanced, and policy must urgently catch
Q.1) "Bondi" Bond, a term recently seen in news, refers to: (a) Bonds issued in Canadian dollars by foreign institutions.
(b) Bonds issued by the Government of India to encourage investment by youth.
(c) World's first public blockchain bond.
(d) Bonds issued by Rajasthan Government to attract investments in
Q.1) Policymakers have failed to use technological advances made in treating
faecal sludge. Critically examine.