New Delhi: He may have was been stripped of the Sanitation Department, but Union Minister Jairam Ramesh on Wednesday took up the cause of night soil carriers-- mostly dalit women-- vowing to end the scourge of manual scavenging through social security programmes.
After his meeting with Bezwada Wilson, leader of Safai Karmachari Andolan, an organisation working to abolish manual scavenging from the country, the Rural Development Minister said that developing alternative livelihood for manual scavengers will be a mission of his Ministry.
"What we have decided now is that under the National Rural Livelihood Mission, our focus will be developing alternative livelihood for manual scavegers.
"We will now give highest priority to the manual scavenging families and through NRLM provide immediately alternative livelihood training and skill development for this families," he said.
Ramesh, who was attacked by saffron outfits for saying that there are more temples in the country than toilets, also asked such organisations to "think about" more than three lakh people who are forced to do the "shameful" manual scavenging in the country.
"In a country where lakhs of families use dry toilets and where three lakh manual scavangers are working even today, there can`t be a more shameful thing.
"On those who had commented on my temple-toilet statement, they should think about this," said the Minister, who brought sanitation issue into limelight by launching nationwide campaign to end open defecation when he was the in-charge of the department.
During the recent Cabinet reshuffle, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh allocated the Drinking Water and Sanitation portfolio to Bharatsin Solanki with Independent charge.
Bezwada Wilson Wilson said that a case has been filed in
the Supreme Court on the existence of manual scavenging and state governments in their affidavit in the apex court have said that there is no manual scavenging in the country.
He said that a sample survey conducted by his organisation in 21 states has revealed that thousands of people are still engaged in manual scavenging in many states like Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Uttarakhand.
As per 2011 Census, there are 7,94,390 dry latrines in the country, where the human excreta is cleaned manually.
According to Safai Karmachari Andolan, there are 13,14,652 toilets where human excreta is flushed in open drains and these toilets are also cleaned the same way.