Union Minister of State (IC) for Housing and Urban Affairs, Hardeep Singh Puri, launched Safaimitra Suraksha Challenge on November 19 on the occasion of World Toilet Day 2020 through video conferencing. While addressing the inaugural ceremony, the Minister said that the Government of India is committed to ensuring that no person needs to enter a sewer or septic tank, unless absolutely unavoidable in the interest of greater public hygiene.
“We are today setting another milestone by launching the Safaimitra Suraksha Challenge which aims to ensure that no life of any sewer or septic tank cleaner is ever lost again owing to the issue of ‘hazardous’ cleaning,” Puri added.
The Safaimitra Suraksha Challenge not only aims at preventing ‘hazardous cleaning’ of sewers and septic tanks but also promote their mechanized cleaning. At the virtual event, the Chief Secretaries, State Mission Directors and other senior State/ Union Territory and city officials came together and took a pledge on behalf of 243 cities to mechanize all sewer and septic tank cleaning operations by April 30, 2021, and gave their commitment to work towards preventing any deaths from hazardous entry.
On the occasion, the Minister said, “The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act (2013) and various judgements of Hon’ble Supreme Court expressly prohibit hazardous cleaning, i.e. manual entry into a septic tank or sewer without protective gear and observing operating procedures. Despite this, recurring episodes of human fatalities among those engaged in cleaning of septic tanks and sewers, typically belonging to the economically disadvantaged and marginalized communities of society, continue to be an issue of concern.”
He highlighted that the success of the challenge does not only depend on the intent and commitment of political representatives, bureaucrats or municipal authorities but also on the citizens of the country. As the citizens have taken complete ownership of the Swachhata of their cities, their involvement in this endeavour is absolutely crucial as well. Puri appealed to the citizens to be vigilant and responsible and play their part in saving the lives of the Sanitation or Swachhata Commandos.
On the Challenge, Durga Shanker Mishra, Secretary, Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) said, “The challenge will focus extensively on creating citizen awareness on this critical issue along with infrastructure creation for mechanized cleaning and capacity building of workforce. Along with this, a dedicated helpline number has been set up to register complaints and provide real-time solutions on desludging or sewer overflow. The actual on-ground assessment of participating cities will be conducted in May 2021 by an independent agency and the results of the same will be declared on August 15, 2021.” Cities will be awarded in three sub-categories based on the population – with a population of more than 10 lakhs, 3-10 lakhs and up to 3 lakhs, with total prize money of Rs 52 crores to be given to winning cities across all the categories.
Moreover, a series of advisories prepared by the Central Public Health and Environmental Engineering Organisation (CPHEEO), MoHUA were also rolled out at the event. These included a ‘Training Module for Sanitary Workers on Cleaning of Sewer and Septic Tanks’, a document on ‘Equipment & Workforce Norms for Managing Waterborne Sanitation in India’ and Consultative Document on ‘Land Application of Faecal Sludge’.