Wednesday, 2 August 2017


-Bhagwan Das

Mahatma Gandhi described them as ATI SHUDRAS when he expressed his wish in one of his prayer meetings at Valmiki Mandir, Pachkuian Road, New Delhi. It clearly depicts the inner voice of the Father of the nation and his immortal desire to serve these lowly people, even if God willed him to be reborn for yet another cycle of life. Gandhi ji in his sagely vision fully realised the inhuman condition of Safaiwalas in India- the way they are compelled to live in segregated clusters far removed from the main settlements both in rural as well as in urban areas.
Their clusters are devoid invariably of all amenities-civic and hygienic. They are treated worse than those of slaves. They live severed of all social interaction with the rest of the society. Due to the abject poverty, their children mostly remain illiterate. Even those who get enrolled in a Municipal School, hardly complete their education. Most of them are relegated as they wily nily join their parents in ‘Safai’ service, at a tender age.
They fall prey to and become easy victims of social evils like drinking, gambling, addiction to drugs, early marriages and ultimately end up in heavy indebtedness. The curse of indebtedness is carried from one generation to the other. This evil cycle is unending. They are treated as the last layer of the lowest rung in the caste-ridden society. Even the ‘Untouchables’ desist their company. They remain fully exploited even by the other exploited Scheduled Castes. The Constitutional provisions and other rights meant for the Scheduled Castes are usurped by the well-to-do Scheduled Castes at the cost of the Safai Karamcharis. All benefits meant for such down-trodden are high- jacked by the ‘creamy layers’ among the Scheduled Castes.
There are not many philanthropic organizations- social or political - that care for them, While taking note of the progress made by India in the field of social justice, it is quite clear that Mahatma Gandhi’s dream of making the ‘Daughter of a Bhangi as ‘Rashtrapati’ still remains only an empty one. The future is bleak and uncertain.
The predominant political trend in India is fast moving towards tightening the grip of casteist and communal forces over our national body politics. The society in general, cannot remain isolated from tie writhing pain. The ugly head of process of reversing the pro-poor, social and secular structure of our democracy is on the rise. Our Constitution is sought to be revised by the communal forces to achieve their ill declared objective.
Fundamental Rights guaranteed to the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Minorities in India are being trampled publicly by the ruling groups in several States. Various atrocities on Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Minorities are organised in a calculative manner with the active involvement of official machinery in various parts of the country. Decisions which are detrimental to the lives and security of the above mentioned categories are obtained from the Courts by producing fudged, misleading, and incorrect evidence and concocted facts by the vested interests.
Under such perilous circumstances, the Union Government in the name of liberalisation and reforms is conniving with reactionary forces by amending the Labour Laws.
How ironical it is that these amendments which are being pushed forward unconstitutionally by the Government of India, are going to hit directly this section of people where Mahatma Gandhi had wished to be reborn, namely ‘ATI SHUDRA.’
Two amendments being brought forward by the Government, recommended by two separate Committees. One of these two was appointed by the Honourable Supreme Court while hearing a case filed by Almitra patel of INTACH in 1996. The Committee consisted of a group of l.A.S. officers, headed by Shri ASEEM BURMAN Commissioner, Kolkata Municipal Corporation. Its other members were four bureaucrats from Urban Development Ministry and Ministry of Environment, three Municipal Commissioners and Almitra Patel herself. The Committee submitted its report on 25th March, 1999. It is clear from these appointments that there is no representative from organisations like SAFAI KARAMCHARI COMMISSION, the Scheduled Castes & Scheduled Tribes Commission and the Labour Commissioner, Trade Unions or any other representative of workers of this Committee.
The two specific recommendations made by the Committee have serious, long term anti-constitutional implications. The recommendations are (a) in respect of the SC & ST (Prevention of Atrocities Act, l989); and (b) in respect of Amendment to the Contract Labour (R&A) ACT, 1970.
Targeting the weakest link, i.e. the Dalits, Scavengers and Safai Kararncharis on the basis of recommendations of a Committee having no representation of Labour and Dalits, is highly unacceptable and un-constitutional. The lobby that is spearheading the movement of targeting the Dalit Safai Karamcharis, Safai Kamgars is comprised of the contractor’s lobby, the upper class/caste I.A.S. cadre and some multinational groups.
The recommendations of the Committee set up to look into Solid Waste Management of Municipal Corporation in Class I cities go much beyond the mandate. In doing so, the Committee is also subverting the due process of law required to be followed when any amendments are proposed and cannot be left, as has been done in Tamil Nadu. The role of the democratically elected people’s representatives should not be circumvented.
Can the system of exploiting Dalit Safai Contract Workers be called an efficient system?
In Mumbai, for examp1e, the Bombay Municipal Corporation employing 2000 workers have practiced the contract system of removal of waste for the last 18 years. Not a single labour legislation has been observed by the contractors or by the principal employer Bombay Municipal Corporation (BMC) in this case. Neither BMC nor contractors have licenses, and it is observed that compensation claims of several workers, who died in accidents, cannot be settled as no records have been maintained of their employment either by the BMC or the employer contractors. The Scavengers and ‘Safai Karamcharis’ work under extremely inhuman and filthy conditions without any protective gears or washing facilities. As a result, these workers were not allowed in public transport, restaurants or even Municipal Offices. Under such conditions, the workers were forced to eat food on top of the trucks carrying garbage and human waste. This condition is nothing else but Untouchability or the Contract System Era. Corruption is rampant and inherent in the contract system. The Vigilance Committee of MC submitted its report in Bombay High Court, confirming corruption of crores of rupees during a small period of 1995-99. The Deputy Municipal Commissioner was suspended when caught red handed by Anti-Corruption Bureau while accepting bribes from the contractors.  Many similar cases in MC are now coming to light.
Therefore, the claim of the Municipalities to Contract System is the solution, is highly contentious and needs to be challenged. Under such circumstances, Kachra Vahatuk Shramik Sang had filed a petition in the High Court for protecting the rights and interests of the contract workers in Bombay Municipal Corporation. The Court has abolished the illegal contract system and directed the BMC to absorb the workers who have been kept on contract for decades without any benefit or a fair wage as applicable to permanent workers.
If the condition of the Contract Labour in Mumbai is so miserable, in spite of the Contract Labour Act being in force the situation will only worsen when the contract workers will be left out of the purview of the Act as per the recommendations of the High Power Committee.
The first victims of the recommendations of the Committee are Municipal Safai workers from Chennai Municipal Corporation in Tamil Nadu. Under Section 31 of the Contract Labour Act State Government is empowered to exempt certain services f from its purview for a certain period to overcome specific emergencies. The Tamil Nadu Government exempted sweeping and scavenging activities of the Chennai Corporation f or a period of five years in the wake of these recommendations of the Committee. What is the nature of emergency remains unspecified and the term ‘specific period’ cannot be arbitrarily extended to five years. Now the perennial and statutory work of Chennai Municipal Corporation for sweeping and cleaning is being given to Singapore based company. C G E A Asia Holding Private Ltd. This clearly affects the rights of the labour, which in the case of scavenging happens to be the Dalits, who are now pushed in the unorganised sector. They remain completely unprotected by law, a trend that is dangerous.
Are we going to keep Dalit scavengers, sweepers who were outside the boundary of villages, now out of the purview of the laws? That too on the recommenedations of such High Power Committee is we going to allow “file petition-form Committee (without proper representation) -submit recommendations- and get order”! Such type of short-cut methods to amend’ the existing laws? ARE WE GOING TON ALLOW SUCH TRAVESTY OP TRUTH?
There is, therefore, a need for intervention at the highest level as the recommendations of the Committee are being used by Urban Development Deptt., to expedite the privatization (Contract System) rather than address a host of other more substantive issues in solid waste management. The Anti-Dalit, Anti-Labour and Unconstitutional efforts must be defeated by intervening in court and by raising these issues in the Assembly and the Parliament. The importance of cleanliness in life cannot be mitigated, but securing ‘the noble task at the cost of life of Safai Karmacharis is inhumane and unjustifiable by any tenets of civil and sane societies.

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