THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 06 November 2019 (To slow on sanitation)

To slow on sanitation

Mains Paper 2: Social Justice
Prelims level: Faecal Sludge Treatment Plants
Mains level: Welfare schemes to the vulnerable sections of the society

Context

  • 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.

Constitutional Provision

  • 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 first instance.
  • 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 promising.

Way forward

  • 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 departments accountable.
  • The science on sanitation has advanced, and policy must urgently catch up.

    Online Coaching for UPSC PRE Exam

    General Studies Pre. Cum Mains Study Materials

Prelims Questions:

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 infrastructure.

Answer: C
Mains Questions:

Q.1) Policymakers have failed to use technological advances made in treating faecal sludge. Critically examine.


NEW! UPSC Exam may be Postponed due to Corona Virus

GET DAILY NEWSLETTER for UPSC Exams

DONT FORGET TO CHECK AND CONFIRM YOUR EMAIL LINK.