The Safai Karmachari Andolan (SFA) or Janitors Campaign which has been conducting a concerted campaign for over two decades to rid this country of this inhuman scourge filed a public interest litigation a decade ago in the Supreme Court alleging that the Railways with its 170,000 open discharge toilets was the biggest violator of the Prohibition of Manual Scavenging Act. The Railways employs a huge army of Dalits, who are mostly contract labourers, to clean the dirt from the stations manually. The Supreme Court Judges initially refused to believe that this was true as the Railways denied this fact totally. The SFA had to submit photographic evidence from across the country to convince the judges that the situation was indeed as bad as alleged.
The Railways have nevertheless continued to dilly dally citing the huge cost of taking remedial measures which basically means adding tanks to trains to contain the sewage generated and then dispose them in sewage treatment plants built at stations. There is a suggestion for using bio digester toilets which will then release partially treated black water at the bigger stations to be emptied there for further treatment. Alternatively a septic tank can be put below the toilets with an aerator pump pushing air into the tank run by a gear system attached to the wheels. This aerated digestion will substantially treat the black water and it can then be emptied out into tanks at the stations for further solar and chemical treatment to make it fit for washing of the trains and for flushing the toilets. To decrease the sewage load there can be an automatic system that whenever the train is running at or above a certain speed the toilets will open outside and below that speed they will empty into the tank. In this way the problems of dirt on the stations, manual scavenging and supply of water for washing trains and flushing toilets can be simultaneously solved. That the railways is not doing this just shows how obstinate the Government system is in its unjust character. The Government is also steadfastly refusing to hold a census to have an authoritative estimate of the number of manual scavengers and dry latrines despite several representations for this from the SFA. Manual Scavengers in fact are the backbone of the sewage system in cities also. Whenever, the sewers get blocked, which is pretty often, they have to descend into them to clean them. Every year some manual scavengers die due to inhaling the toxic gases that are generated in the sewers while trying to clean them. A man cleaning a sewer as in the picture below is a common sight in most cities.
Finally the pressure from the Supreme Court has forced the Central Government to promise to enact a new law that will put the onus on the Indian Railways to install toilets and cleaning systems that do not use manual scavenging but that too is waiting to be tabled in Parliament.
The Rashtriya Garima Abhiyan (RGA) or the National Dignity Campaign is another organisation that has been campaigning for over a decade to end manual scavenging and have also taken steps to provide rehabilitation to freed manual scavengers. The RGA launched a Rashtriya Maila Mukti Yatra or National Freedom from Dirt March recently from November 30th 2012. The photo of the final rally of the march being taken out in Delhi on 31st January 2013 is given below.