Ray of hope for sewerage workers struggling for safety and dignity

Dignitaries release the Voice for Change: Negotiating Case, Dignity and State Apathy book at the consultation held in Delhi on Friday.

Dignitaries release the Voice for Change: Negotiating Case, Dignity and State Apathy book at the consultation held in Delhi on Friday.

Event photo

Safety and the importance of following government mandates emerged as the topmost priority at the national consultation on issues faced by sewerage workers organised at Gandhi Peace Foundation in New Delhi on Friday, August 22, 2014.

The consultation, which was hosted by the National Campaign for Dignity and Rights of Sewerage and Allied Workers (NCDARSAW) and Occupational Health and Safety Management Consultancy Services (OHSMCS), began with the screening of Gutter Mein Zindagi, a participatory video made by the sewerage workers with support from Praxis Institute for Participatory Practices. The video showcases the daily risks and plight of sewerage workers, the contractual nature of employment and the resultant life of drudgery and uncertainty they get pushed into. The consultation also saw the release of two publications –‘Down The Drain’, a study on the occupational health hazards and the perils of contracting faced by sewerage workers; and ‘Voice for Change – Sewerage Workers Negotiating Caste, Dignity and State Apathy’, a narrative based on the experiences of sewerage workers in Delhi.

The consultation saw sewerage workers share the hazards they faced in terms of lack of safety mechanisms, absence of an accountable authority they could turn to in case of emergency and the undignified way in which the work was carried out. “We don’t even have a place to wash after cleaning the drains,” said Chetan in the video shared at the consultation. “We don’t even know the name of the contractor,” another worker said.

Referring to their plight, Mr Raju Sarthar from the Delhi Safai Karamachari Aayog (Delhi Safai Karmachari Commission) said it was imperative to stop outsourcing of sewerage work and bring in permanency in the contractual nature of the job. He also pointed out that initiatives had been taken to provide cashless medical facility and an order to the effect would be out soon. This comes as a beacon of hope to many contractual sewerage workers who are forced to shell out money on treatments for diseases contracted during duty.

Mr Sarthar also said that the accidental death of any worker on duty would see a family member provided with their job along with a sizeable compensation, both of which were made mandatory by the government in 2013.

Mr Ved Prakash, of the Delhi Jal Board Workers’ Union said the board should demolish sub-contracting in sewerage work. “It should initiate creation of safe and secure environment for sewer workers” he said. He also pointed out the need for awareness among the public about the plight of sub-contracted sewerage workers.

Mr. H.P. Mishra of Kamdar Swasthya Suraksha Mandal said there was a dire need for data on sewerage workers and the need to increase awareness about existing legal provisions. “There is no awareness among workers themselves.”

Mr. Dunu Roy from Hazard Centre said “Delhi Jal Board should show transparency in sharing the amount spent on cleanliness.” He also added that impact on health was severe for both permanent and contractual based workers, hence the focus should be on health and health services. He also noted the importance of working on the structure of sewer lids, which would decrease the health effects and threat to the life of sewer workers.

Dr. Ashish Mittal From OHSMCS pointed out that the workers lacked proper training about the technical aspects of working in a sewer. He said the workers needed to be trained in performing first aid in case of emergency.

Links to the video Down The Drain (Gutter Mein Zindagi): http://youtu.be/3azx-jUT1sY?list=PLwixYh1RL3PHFdBSaWE_I5H59zJU1q-fn

Link to the Voice For Change book: http://t.co/kkRrklamca

 

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Friends, the 500 countdown to the MDGs lapsing begins today. Which means, we have the daunting task of 500 days remaining to evolve an alternate plan which will guide the development world for the next decade or so. Praxis believes that development can be fruitful and sustainable only if voices of the poor and the marginalised are heard and acted upon. Today, we share our learnings from communities on various issues revolving around the MDGs and invite you to follow/share your thoughts on twitter marking @praxis_india, #Act2015 and #MDG500

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One Year Since GLP – ‘Towards Direct Talk with communities’

It is a year since the first Ground Level Panel (on Post 2015 development agenda) was pioneered by Praxis in India. A year on, the inputs from the community are still orbiting the various UN processes and there is not much clarity on how much or how deeply those voices will be embedded in the final product brought out by the UN. But what we do know for sure, is that the Ground Level Panel as a strategy and methodology drew immense appeal and acceptance almost immediately – amongst the communities and those wishing to engage seriously on development issues – be it students, development workers, politicians, journalists, activists or even representatives of missions of various countries involved with drafting the post-2015 sustainable development goals.

It was a step closer to removing the intermediary barrier of NGO/ Journalist/ Politician who hitherto spoke on behalf of the poor. Ever since the advent of ‘rapid rural appraisal’ and subsequently ‘participatory rural appraisal’ about 2 ½ decades ago, opportunities for people experiencing poverty and marginalisation to input into global policymaking spaces have been on the increase. However, much of it continued to remain extractive and used by development workers, campaigners and advocates and seldom by the communities themselves. The GLP process broke that barrier and brought communities face to face with the policy maker, journalist and general public with insightful recommendations and development goals of significantly higher quality than those otherwise produced by experts. I recall last year’s GL Panellists’ unequivocal voice;  “इनाम नहीं, नाम  – not doles, but identity and rights”.

Today, we have many more ‘Direct Talk’ methodologies, in addition to GLPs, to aid us. Digital Story Telling (DST), Participatory Video (PV), etc., are but a few of those. As development workers, we will have no more excuses to keep the community voices from directly engaging. How we make that graph grow steeply up, is in our hands.

 

Tom Thomas,

CEO, Praxis

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Voice for Change – A close look at urban development in Budget 2014-15

Voice for Change – Urban Development in the Union Budget 2014-15[i]

The vision of Urban Renewal in the Union Budget 2014-15 prescribes four fundamental activities which must underpin urban development. These are:

  • Provision of safe drinking water and sewerage management,
  • Use of recycled water for growing organic fruits and vegetable,
  • Solid waste management
  • Digital connectivity.

The Government aims at providing support to at least 500 such habitations by harnessing private capital and expertise through Public Private Partnerships and renewing their infrastructure and services in the next ten years.

Development of Smart Cities: Recognising that the pace of migration from the rural areas to the cities is increasing and that a neo-middle class is emerging which has the aspiration of better living standards, the Government aims at developing 100 ‘Smart Cities’ – satellite towns of larger cities and by modernizing the existing mid-sized cities. A provision of a sum of Rs. 7,060 crore has been made in the current fiscal year. These include provisions for Sub-Mission on Urban Infrastructure and Governance (SM-UIG), Urban Infrastructure Development for Small and Medium Towns (UIDSSMT) and single common head for Mission for Development of 100 Smart Cities and JNNURM. http://indiabudget.nic.in/ub2014-15/eb/sbe103.pdf (page number 6 and 2, Major Head 43601 and 43602).

Pooled Municipal Debt Obligation Facility: This facility was set up in 2006 with participation of several Banks to promote and finance infrastructure projects in urban areas on shared risk basis. Present corpus of this facility is Rs. 5,000 crore. The corpus is being enlarged to Rs. 50,000 crore with extension of the facility by five years to March 31, 2019.

Metro Projects:  A sum of Rs. 100 crore has been allocated for Metro projects in Lucknow and Ahemdabad.

Housing for All:  Additional tax incentive has been extended on home loans to encourage people, especially the young, to own houses. A Mission on Low Cost Affordable Housing has been set up, which will be anchored in the National Housing Bank (NHB). Schemes will be evolved to incentivise the development of low-cost affordable housing. A sum of Rs 4,000 crore has been allocated for NHB with a view to increase the flow of cheaper credit for affordable housing to the urban poor/Economically weaker sections and/Lower Income Group segment.

There is also a Scheme of Assistance for Mechanical Cleaning of Sewers and Septic Tanks (SAMCSS), which has been allocated merely Rs 1 lakh.

Additionally, women’s safety in urban areas is accorded special attention. An outlay of Rs. 50 crore will be spent by the Ministry of Road Transport & Highways on pilot testing a scheme on “Safety for Women on Public Road Transport”. Similarly, Ministry of Home Affairs will spend a sum of Rs. 150 crore on a scheme to increase the safety of women in large cities. It is also proposed to set up “Crisis Management Centres” in all the districts of NCT of Delhi this year in all government and private hospitals. The funding will be provided from the Nirbhaya Fund.

Further, slum development has been included in the list of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities to encourage the private sector to contribute more towards this activity.

Some Concerns

It is very clear that there is a renewed focus on urban development. The Central Plan outlay has increased by more than 110%, that is, from Rs 9478.46 crore in 2013-14 to Rs 20114.27 crore in 2014-15.

The concern is about the focus. The fear is that these development activities should not further marginalise the poor in urban areas. The urban poor, who are also the citymakers, should not bear the cost of the development in the form of evictions and such other activities, which often get overlooked as “collateral damage”[ii].

Will the focus continue to be on urban middle class or will there be efforts to provide services and infrastructure for poor and marginalised? Except the programme on safety of women, there are not many that look at issues specific to urban poor. The transgender population largely resides in urban areas and they have their own unique needs[iii]. Will their issues be covered in the Mission on 100 Smart Cities?

There is no mention of Rajiv Awaas Yojana. Similarly, the Major Head of JNNURM has been merged with the new Mission. What would happen to these schemes? Are they going to be done away with or continued? If the latter happens, what are the changes in clauses and implementation, if any?

When will the Ministry of Urban Development spell out the details of its Mission for Development of 100 Smart Cities? Will there be a component on Slum Development?

The needs of urban poor children are unique. Often their needs, especially related to their safety, development opportunities, playgrounds and basic living conditions, do not get specific attention[iv]. Will these be considered?

The situation of sewerage workers is worsening. They continue to be marginalised in terms of their working conditions as well as occupational safety system[v]. A number of workers have died because of negligence and lack of accountability in the recent past. Will there be any component to help them mitigate occupational hazards?

Similarly, while relatively more privileged migrants from rural areas acquire the status of “neo-migrants” and whose aspirations seem to govern the urban development schemes, what would happen to poor and marginalised migrants from rural areas, whose living conditions often worsens at the destination areas. While a number of them end up as homeless, some get housed in the worst of slums[vi]. The nation hopes that the Ministry hears voices of these citizens, especially children, while drafting the Mission programme on 100 smart cities.

 

Notes

[i] The brief was prepared by Kirti Vashisht and Pradeep Narayanan as part of Voice for Change series, a self-funded initiative of Praxis Institute for Participatory Practices

[ii] Voice for Change: Citymakers Seeking to Reclaim Cities they Build; Praxis Institute for Participatory Practices; 2013 (Link to report: http://ow.ly/z7eq7)

[iii] Beyond 2015: Voices for Empowerment – a participatory video made by sexual minorities in Tamil Nadu and facilitated by Praxis Institute for Participatory Practices (Link to film: http://ow.ly/z7fJH)

[iv] Satya Ye Kadve Hai (Bitter Truths) – A participatory video made by children living in urban slums in Delhi and facilitated by Praxis Institute for Participatory Practices (Link to film: http://ow.ly/zaah8)

[v] Down the Drain – a participatory video made by sewerage workers in Delhi and facilitated by Praxis Institute for Participatory Practices (Link to film: http://youtu.be/VNsaC2BGGDI)

[vi] Chennai – of the Magnified and the Mangled; and Saare Jahan Se Achha – participatory videos made by citymakers in Chennai and Delhi (Link to films: http://ow.ly/z7h6w)

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Where ‘Informal’ means Formal: Notes from The Twelfth Session of Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals

At the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, held in 2012, the UN member states agreed to launch a process that would help them evolve a set of sustainable development goals that would make recommendations to what should replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). This was achieved through the formation of a 30-member Open Working Group (OWG) of the General Assembly members. Simultaneously, a mechanism for civil society and individuals was also developed to enable them to contribute and comment on the goals being developed.

After eleven completed OWG sessions between March 2013 and May 2014, a Zero Draft of the proposed goals and targets was made available to the public on the evening of 2 June 2014. Feedback was sought from the civil society in the form of tweaks made to language, gaps in the proposed set of goals and any other suggestions and recommendations. Urgency was the need of the hour as detailed comments needed to be shared with the representatives of the 30 seats in the week in the run up to and during the OWG. Since there was only one more OWG, this intervention acquired criticality.

How Praxis fits in

Beyond2015 is a global civil society campaign, pushing for a strong and legitimate successor framework to the Millennium Development Goals. It brings together more than 1000 Civil Society Organisations in over 130 countries around the world, including Praxis. Beyond2015 were keen to have a member closely involved with the work of the Participate initiative of Institute of Development Studies, Sussex, to represent their perspectives at the OWG. Participate in turn reached out to Praxis for the same. Praxis was to be part of a breakfast briefing organised with member sates to present some views to the attendees there as well as participate in the open working group sessions.

Preparation

Responses from civil society had to be collated in a rapid manner and inputs from over 1000 organisations (including Praxis) were condensed by Beyond2015, in time for the OWG. Praxis also simultaneously engaged with the Wada Na Todo Campaign that was representing views of organisations in India and shared some of this feedback with them as well to incorporate into their draft.

The Breakfast Briefing

Beyond 2015 and World Vision co-hosted a breakfast briefing on June 12 2014 in New York, to present the Campaign’s reaction to the document “Introduction and Proposed Goals and Targets on Sustainable Development for the Post-2105 Development Agenda (Zero Draft)”. The meeting was attended by more than 20 people including representatives from the missions of Norway, Switzerland, Korea, Hungary, United States, Canada, Sweden, Guyana, and Brazil. There were also people from UNEP, UNDP and UN-NGLS.

Neva from CAFOD, UK, and Sowmyaa from Praxis presented a statement with some key recommendations and action points to the member states. The role of Praxis included discussing our main work around Post2015 – namely the participatory videos we facilitated (Transgender populations, urban poor communities in Chennai and Delhi as well as sanitation workers); Voice for Change Document series; Digital stories facilitated with various groups and the Ground Level Panel (available in the downloads section of this blog). Taking on from these examples, Praxis reiterated the need for inclusion and participation to ensure that the sustainable development goals should be people-centered and must uphold the principle of “leave no one behind”. Several members states were curious and quite excited about the little they had heard about the GLP and were keen to understand the process better.

The Open Working Group Sessions

The OWG sessions were scheduled from 16 – 20 July. The structure of the meeting was very unclear. The member states were in no mood to concede ground to the civil society representatives. The run-up to the OWG saw some “informal-informals” where the member states were meeting in informal sessions with each other and civil society to discuss and deliberate matters related to the Zero Draft. The structure of these informal-informals was such that these (unlike the name suggested) were closed door sessions for anyone the member states do not want in. This exclusion was usually for representatives from the civil society. These meetings were also not formally documented or taped. The member-states decided to continue this same model for the rest of the OWG, effectively shutting out civil society representatives who were asked to leave the hall.

Civil society groups presented a letter to the co-chairs the following day, expressing their disappointment at the decision and an appeal to reverse the same. While the same could not be accommodated they invited the petitioners to join the assembly as silent observers as a few of them had done the day before.

On the second day, Sowmyaa from Praxis shared a statement on Goal 10 about inequality and reiterated the need for it to be a stand-alone goal. The statement was prepared from inputs from not just Beyond2015 but anyone related to the major groups. A milestone for Beyond2015 was that the co-chairs referred to this statement during the course of the day, to bring it the attention of member states.

Next Steps

Praxis continues to be part of the discussions and deliberations around issues in the Zero draft both with Beyond2015 and with Wada Na Todo and will continue to contribute to thinking to make these sustainable development goals converge with our post2015 development agenda.

Statement to the co-chairs (Excerpts)

We are extremely pleased that the OWG has included a Stand-alone Goal on Equality (Goal 10) in the new Zero Draft. This is good news for everyone concerned with poverty, barriers to development, discrimination against women or various socially excluded groups, human rights, conflict, political and economic instability, lack of progress on climate accords, and more.

We strongly oppose merging of Goals 1 (Poverty) and 10 (Equality). Minimising inequalities is a critically important goal in its own right, well beyond overcoming poverty. A large body of research now shows that many serious problems are caused or made worse by inequality, ranging from crime and conflict through health and mental health problems, to economic instability. Furthermore, there has been much protest and potential unrest due to growing inequalities in countries around the world. Without a Stand-alone Goal on Equality, this important focus is lost.

Throughout the entire set of SDGs, no goal or target should be considered met until it is met for all groups, ensuring that no one is left behind. Failures within certain segments of society must not be allowed to hide behind improved overall average values. Data must be disaggregated for all human populations, subgroups, and minorities, including by geography, urban or rural status, income, gender, racial or ethnic group, sexual orientation, religion, language, disability, age, legal and migration status, and any other needed categories as determined on a country by country basis through participatory democratic input.

Below follow our (civil society organisations’) specific suggestions to the targets proposed under Goal 10 (shown in strikethrough for deletions, and bold for additions):

Proposed goal 10.  Reduce Minimize social, economic and political inequality within and among countries

Reduce inequality among social groups within countries:

10.1 by 2030 eliminate discriminatory laws, policies and practices and recognize and fulfill the cultural, social, economic, political, and environmental rights for all human populations, subgroups, and minorities

10.2 achieve and sustain income growth of the bottom 40% of the population that is higher than the national average through  reduce income inequality in all countries such that the post-tax, post-transfer income of the poorest 40% is no less than the post-tax, post-transfer income of the richest 10%

10.3 by 2030 reduce eliminate inequalities of opportunity and minimize inequalities of outcome among all social groups, including economic (income, assets, and access to resources), social, and environmental inequalities

10.4 work towards reversing the decline of the share of labour income in GDP where relevant

10.5 by 2030 ensure, empower and promote the social, political and economic inclusion of the poor, the marginalized and people in vulnerable situations, including indigenous peoples, women, minorities, migrants, persons with disabilities, older persons, children and youth, and all other human populations, subgroups, and minorities

[ADD] Ensure that every person has access to influencing public decision-making on economic and social benefits policy

[ADD] Ensure that every person has access to influencing fundamental decisions within their place of work, including setting of equitable compensation levels

[ADD] Transition to economic systems, structural approaches, and macroeconomic (fiscal and monetary) policies that generate increasing equality rather than inequalities

10.6 promote and respect cultural diversity as congruent with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

10.7 ensure the availability and accessibility of high-quality, timely and disaggregated data to ensure monitoring of progress for marginalized groups and people in vulnerable situations, to be disaggregated by geography, urban or rural status, income, gender, racial or ethnic group, sexual orientation, religion, language, disability, age, legal and migration status, and any other needed categories as determined on a country by country basis through participatory democratic input

International actions to reduce inequalities among nations:

10.8     establish measures at global level to reduce inequality among countries, to reduce income inequality for metrics including per capita income, resource use, and carbon output to no more than a 10-fold difference between the richest and poorest nations

10.9    promote strong international institutions, including through the conclusion of reforms for
increasing effective and democratic participation of developing countries in international financial institutions

10.10   improve regulation and accountability of global financial markets and institutions and
strengthen their implementation, transitioning to structural approaches and macroeconomic (fiscal and monetary) policies that generate increasing equality rather than inequalities between nations

10.11   facilitate greater international mobility of labour and ensure workers’ rights for migrant workers while mitigating brain drain

10.12   assist developing countries in attaining long term debt sustainability through coordinated policies aimed at fostering debt financing, debt relief and debt restructuring

ADD: by 2030, eliminate illicit financial flows, including money laundering, mispricing, transnational corruption and bribery, and eradicate cross-border tax evasion, improve and standardize financial reporting standards to increase transparency, including country-by-country reporting of corporate profits, full transparency of global financial transactions, bank holdings and deposits, and beneficial ownership, and increased stolen asset recovery

ADD: by 2030, reform trade systems to promote equality among trade partners, recognizing the need for special and differential treatment of developing countries, and more equal distribution of profits along the value chain, by x% over y number of years

ADD: by 2030, developed nations significantly reduce their water, carbon, cropland and raw material footprints, and developing nations in turn receive the financial and technology transfers required to achieve a good quality of life for all their citizens

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The Supreme Court of India has delivered a landmark verdict recognizing transgender people and creating a third gender category that will allow them to identify themselves as such on official documents. Read more on this verdict here.

Praxis welcomes this news in the light of its own committment to equal rights and recognition for the transgender community.

In 2012, Praxis facilitated a participatory video workshop with members of the transgender community in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India. The participants debated on the need to have their voices reflected in the post-2015 framework that will come into place as a replacement or an extension or a logical conclusion of the Millennium Development Goals that lapse in 2015.

We hope this ruling paves the way for the community to access their other aspirations and rights, some of which are expressed in the video, in order to stake claim to public spaces and protections that is rightfully theirs.

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Down the Drain: A participatory video by sewage workers of Delhi

About a week after two men, one a sewage worker and the other a fruit seller, were choked to death while cleaning a manhole in Noida, three other sewage workers face the same fate in Chennai and Mysore. Compensation and a couple of news reports later, the plight of their families as well as that of thousands of others who face an uncertain life remain in oblivion to the majority.

Down the Drain, a participatory video made by sewage workers in Delhi, is an account of their lives, problems and demands.

Do share your views on what an accountable state and a conscious people can and must do.

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