The government on Tuesday told the Lok Sabha that 347 sanitation workers have died across India since 2017 while cleaning sewers and septic tanks.

Manual scavenging – or the practice of removing human excreta by hand from sewer lines or septic tanks – is banned under the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013. But the practice remains prevalent in many parts of India.

In response to a question in the Lok Sabha, Social Justice and Empowerment Minister Virendra Kumar on Tuesday said that the most number of deaths while cleaning sewers – 116 – was recorded in 2019, followed by 92 in 2017.

Since 2017, Uttar Pradesh has reported the highest number of such deaths at 51, followed by 48 in Tamil Nadu and 44 in Delhi, the government said.

Uttar Pradesh recorded the highest number of deaths in 2019 as 26 workers died. This year, 17 workers have lost their lives.

In March, activist Bezwada Wilson had said that the government must come up with an action plan to stop such deaths. Wilson is the national convenor of the Safai Karmachari Andolan, a non-governmental organisation that works on the rehabilitation of manual scavengers and the eradication of the practice.

“How many more such deaths is the government waiting for?” he had asked.

Kumar, in his reply on Tuesday, said that the constituent laboratory of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research has developed an “integrated solution” for mechanised drain cleaning system for urban and local bodies.

“The government takes a serious cognisance of the deaths occurring due to hazardous cleaning of sewers and septic tanks,” he added.

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