Union Housing and Urban Affairs Minister Hardeep Singh Puri on Thursday launched "Safaimitra Suraksha Challenge" across 243 cities in the country, a move that aims to mechanise all sewer and septic tank cleaning operations by April 30 next year.
Addressing a webinar on "World Toilet Day", Mr Puri said the challenge is to ensure that no life of any sewer or septic tank cleaner is ever lost again owing to the issue of "hazardous cleaning".
The minister, according to a statement, said this is in line with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's vision, who has always placed the safety and dignity of sanitation workers at the core of the Swachh Bharat Mission-Urban (SBM-U).
The virtual event saw the chief secretaries, state mission directors and other senior state and union territories coming together to take a pledge on behalf of 243 cities to mechanise all sewer and septic tank cleaning operations by April 30, 2021, and gave their commitment to work towards preventing any deaths from hazardous entry, it 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," the statement quoted Mr Puri as saying at the event.
He said despite this, recurring episodes of human fatalities among those engaged in cleaning of septic tanks and sewers, typically belonging to the economically disadvantaged and marginalised communities of society, continue to be an issue of concern.
The minister also 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.
"Just like citizens have taken complete ownership of the Swachhata of their cities, their involvement in this endeavor is absolutely crucial," Mr Puri said, and appealed to people to be vigilant and responsible and play their part in saving the lives of the Sanitation or "Swachhata Commandos".
Union Housing and Urban Affairs Secretary Durga Shanker Mishra said the challenge will focus extensively on creating citizen awareness on this critical issue along with infrastructure creation for mechanised cleaning and capacity building of workforce.
The ministry said that since its launch in 2014, SBM-U has made significant progress in the area of both sanitation and solid waste management.
As many as 4,337 Urban local bodies (ULBs) have been declared open defecation free (ODF) (except 35 ULBs of West Bengal), it said.
"Besides, over 62 lakhs individual household toilets and over 5.9 lakhs community/ public toilets have been constructed. Additionally, over 59,900 toilets across 2900 plus cities have been made live on Google Maps," it added.
In the area of solid waste management, 97 per cent of wards have 100 per cent door-to door collection while 67 per cent of the total waste generated is being processed, the ministry said.
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