A District-level Convention for Contract Pourakarmikas working for Urban Local Bodies (Municipal Corporations, Municipalities and Town Panchayats (TP)), Gram Panchayat (GP) safaikarmacharis, safaikarmacharis working in private institutions like hotels, lodge, temples, hospitals etc. and family members of those working as Manual Scavengers was held at Gubbi Veeranna Rangamandira in Tumkuru on 2nd Feb 2017. The Convention attended by over 800 workers from all the 10 talukas and 64 Gram Panchayats in Tumkuru district, was presided over by Mr. M. Narayana, former Chairperson of Karnataka State Safaikarmachari Commission; Mr. M. R. Venkatesh, Present Chairman of the Commission, Mr. S. K. Kanta, Former Labour Minister, State Government of Karnataka, Smt. Yashoda Srinivas, Mayor, Tumkuru Municipal Corporation (TMC), Sh. T R Nagraj, Deputy Mayor, TMC, Sh. Arshad R Shaerriff, Commissioner, TMC , Sh. Kenchamarayya, Member, Tmukuru Zilla Panchayat and several other dignitaries. The Convention was jointly organized by Safaikarmachari Kavulu Samithi-Tumkuru and Belaku Safaikarmachari Welfare Trust-Tumkuru.
The Convention began by noting with serious concern, the complete lack of implementation of The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 in the district. Since the Act came into effect in 2013, the district authorities have failed to discharge their legal responsibility under the Act even after 4 years. The Convention reiterated its resolve to continue its struggle for the implementation of the Act. Specifically, following demands and points of action were identified for the future work of SKKS in the district.
Implementation of The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013
- As per the 2013 Act, District Authorities are required to conduct a comprehensive survey within their jurisdiction and list all insanitary latrines which are then to be demolished or converted to sanitary latrines. Even after 4 years of the Act coming into effect, the district administration has taken no steps towards fulfilling this legal obligation.
- As per the 2013 Act, District Authorities were also required to identify persons being employed as Manual Scavengers by conducting a survey in their respective jurisdictions. But so far, no such process has been started after the commencement of the Act. The identification process should be started immediately by launching a wide public awareness campaign eliciting self-declaration affidavits from persons who have been employed as Manual Scavengers.
- Already in some districts, several persons have filed self-declaration affidavits with the district authorities stating that they have been employed as Manual Scavengers. They should be registered and rehabilitated after due verification.
- Vigilance Committees at the District and Sub-Divisional level should be formed immediately as prescribed by the Act.
- Children of Manual Scavengers and safaikarmacharis should be given educational scholarship immediately.
The Convention discussed the impact of the continuous struggle and advocacy work done by SKKS-Karnataka by noting that in the year 2016, several decisions have been taken by the State Government of Karnataka towards regularization of safaikarmacharis, providing the safaikarmacharis a living wage and provision of basic entitlements like education, housing etc. But despite the success in forcing the State government to agree to these long-standing demands, only partial implementation has been done. Representatives from each taluka of the district explained the problems faced by them in their area. Across all talukas, all safaikarmacharis reported continued harassment and violence from contractors and officials including caste-abuse. In several Town Panchayats (TPs) and Gram Panchayats (GPs), safaikarmacharis have not been paid for 3-4 months and when they protested in front of the officials, they were facing harassment. A consistent theme across testimonies by all taluka representatives was that they were not being provided the wage slip by the contractor giving details of their salaries and deduction towards ESI and PF as is mandatory under The Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1970. Whether the PF deductions are actually being deposited in their accounts was not clear to them. In several panchayats, the wages being paid are lower than the current minimum wages notified by State government. The workers also complained that they are not being provided with any safety equipments or protective gears by the contractors or officials. Consequently, most of the workers are suffering from various work-related health complications without access to affordable healthcare and treatment.
Taking cognizance of these continuing issues and the delayed implementation of several government decisions passed in response to the advocacy efforts of SKKS, the Convention adopted following declarations laying out their demands and resolved to work collectively towards achieving these demands:-
- On 04.05.2016, Cabinet of State Government of Karnataka had decided to end contract system for safaikarmacharis by regularizing them under a Special Recruitment Policy by March 2017. The decision should be implemented without delay within this time frame. If there is any further delay in implementation, we would counter it with appropriate struggle.
- On 04.08.06 2016, an order increasing the Minimum Wage for safaikarmacharis has been passed as per which the minimum wage to be given are Rs 14,040 (for 12 large City Municipal Corporations), Rs 13,670 (for Municipalities) and Rs 12,500 (for Town Panchayats and Gram Panchayats). However, still in all Gram Panchayats and several Town Panchayats, the increased Minimum Wage is not being given. The order should be implemented immediately and the officials in-charge who delay the implementation should be acted against.
- An order for the establishment of a separate State Safaikarmachari Development Corporation for the comprehensive development of safaikarmacharis has been passed. But officials are causing delay in the implementation of the order. The Corporation should be started immediately.
- Contract Pourakarmika’s basic issues including Provident Fund, leave with pay, ESI, provision of wage slip with details of deductions, house site, development of basic facilities in the residential colonies of pourakarmikas etc. have not been addressed at all. District officials should take immediate action to resolve these issues.
- Those safaikarmacharis who had been working for Gram Panchayats who died due to health complications caused by their work, their families should be given adequate compensation and their dependents should be provided with government employment.
Both M Narayana and M R Venkatesh extended their support for the demands raised in the convention and asked the attendees to prepare for a wide struggle if the government doesn’t regularize safaikarmacharis by March 2017.