At India there are many free toilet cleaners. In the cleaning of nearly 13 lakh insanitary dry toilets across the country, human beings and animals play an almost equal role, the Supreme Court was told on Monday.
In what could deal a severe blow to the sanitation claims of successive governments, petitioner NGO 'Safai Karmachari Andolan' culled out data from the 2011 census report to inform the court that 4.97 lakh dry toilets were "serviced by animals" while another 7.94 lakh were serviced manually.
With the government introducing a bill to prohibit employment of manual scavengers in Parliament on Monday, it would be left to animals - pigs and dogs - to clean dry toilets in the rural areas.
Appearing for the NGO, senior advocate P S Narasimha and advocate K Parameshwar informed a bench of Justices Swatanter Kumar and S J Mukhopadhaya that of a total 24.6 crore households in India, over 26 lakh toilets were termed insanitary as they discharged excreta directly into open drains (13.14 lakh toilets) or were cleaned manually or serviced by animals (12.91).
The census figures showed Delhi had 583 toilets cleaned by manual scavengers and 633 'serviced by animals'.
There are no surprises in the list of poor performers. Uttar Pradesh had 3.26 lakh dry toilets which were cleaned by manual scavengers, which is more than 41% of the national aggregate. It also had the highest number of insanitary toilets (80,291) "serviced by animals".
West Bengal was a close second, with 72,289 insanitary toilets "serviced by animals" and another 1.3 lakh cleaned by manual scavenging. In Odisha, an almost equal number of toilets were serviced by animals and manual scavengers, the numbers being 24,222 and 26,496 respectively.
Bihar, despite its impressive development initiatives, still had 13,587 toilets cleaned by manual scavengers and 35,009 "serviced by animals". In Assam, 35,394 toilets were "serviced by animals" while 22,139 were cleaned manually.
But in Gujarat, toilets "serviced by animals" outnumbered the manual scavenging ones. While 4,890 toilets were "serviced by animals", 2,566 were serviced manually. Neighbouring Maharashtra, counted among the economically affluent states, had the dubious distinction of allowing 45,429 toilets to be "serviced by animals" while engaging manual scavengers to clean 9,622.
Andhra Pradesh had 52,767 toilets "serviced by animals", while Karnataka had 28,995 and Tamil Nadu 26,020 of them. Toilets cleaned by manual scavengers in these three southern states were 10,357 (AP), 7,740 (Karnataka) and 27,659 (TN) respectively.
The bench of Justices Kumar and Mukhopadhaya was irked by the lethargy of some states in responding to the court's notice asking them to give details of manual scavengers. On Monday, it slapped a cost of Rs 10,000 each on Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jammu and Kashmir for failure to file affidavits detailing the information sought.
It also took the Hardwar district magistrate to task for filing an affidavit attaching declarations by 50 patwaris in identical words to deny existence of manual scavengers in the district. "What is the authenticity of such affidavits? You want us to believe that all the patwaris speak identical language," the bench said and asked the district magistrate to show cause why his affidavit be not struck off the records and appropriate action be not initiated against him.
While giving four weeks time to the defaulting states to furnish relevant details, the court, which has been monitoring the PIL for abolition of manual scavenging, warned, "It is time for the states to wake up."