- Why Manual Scavenging needs to end?
- Steps Taken by government of India
- Present Schemes which deal with ending manual scavenging
- Current Situation: – As per Government
- Even after more than seven decades of independence, India is still striving to put a stop to one of the most inhumane and humiliating of human activities- manual scavenging.
- Manual scavenging is the practice of manually cleaning excrement from private and public dry toilets, pipes, sewerage, open drains etc.
- It is a hereditary, caste based occupation that predominantly involves forced labor. More than an occupation, it is a custom or practice that has continued un-interrupted despite all the available technology and alternatives.
- ILO recognizes three forms of manual scavenging in India
- Removal of human excrement from public streets and dry latrines
- Cleaning septic tanks
- Cleaning gutters and sewers
Why Manual Scavenging needs to end?
- Human Rights Violation:
- Manual Scavenging is modern day slavery. Its continuance in 21st century should horrify and outrage us all. It degrades and dehumanizes a human being by forcing one human to take excreta of other human.
- Supreme Court of India has held that manual scavenging violates international human rights law and has called for prohibition of manual scavenging.
- In 2014, in Safai Karmchari Andolan & Ors vs Union of India it also provided for a compensation of Rs 10 lakh to the family of a person who dies while working as manual scavenger.
- Health Hazards
- Several studies on occupational health hazards among sewage and sanitation workers in India reveal that the direct handling of human excreta without any protective gear by these workers lead to serious health consequences, and often death.
- Exposure to harmful gases like methane and hydrogen sulfide leads to cardiovascular degeneration, skin problems, respiratory system problems, infections like hepatitis, leptospirosis and helicobacter.
- It perpetuates caste discrimination
- Traditionally, people from a particular caste group were responsible for this work. Today, on many occasions, they are forced to continue to work as manual scavengers.
- This caste-designated occupation reinforces social stigma that they are unclean or untouchable and perpetuates the wide-spread discrimination.
- Further, village panchayats and urban local bodies hire people only from particular caste groups for manual scavenging.
- The discrimination then extends to all facets of their lives, including in access to education for their children, makes it more likely that their children will have no choice but to continue to work as manual scavengers.
- These sub castes of Dalits are considered untouchables by other Dalit communities too.
- It perpetuates gender discrimination Of all the manual scavengers in the country, most of them are women. Especially in rural areas, it is women from weaker communities who walk out every morning to manually clean excreta in other households.
- Hinders fight against Open defecation
- Manual Scavenging becomes one of the reasons which perpetuates open defecation as people defecating in open know that someone would be available to clean the excreta.
- So eradication of manual scavenging will also reduce/eliminate open defecation.
Steps Taken by government of India
Laws dealing with manual scavenging
- The Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955 -> banned forced manual scavenging.
- The employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines
(Prohibition) Act, 1993
- Declared the employment of manual scavengers and construction of dry toilets to be punishable with fines (upto Rs 5 Lakh) and imprisonment (upto 5 Years).
- Has the law been effective?
- Not a single conviction has taken place under the law in 25 years.
- Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013
- It supersedes the 1993 act.
- Extends the coverage: Goes beyond prohibition of dry latrines, and prohibits not only cleaning of dry latrines but also outlaws all type of manual cleanings such as cleaning of sewers, gutters and septic tanks without protective gears.
- Local authority or agency is required to use appropriate technological appliances for cleaning of sewers, septic tanks and other spaces to eliminate manual scavenging.
- Rehabilitation Package: It recognizes the constitutional obligation to correct the historical injustices and indignity suffered by manual scavenging communities by providing alternate livelihood opportunities and other assistance in the form of cash assistance, Housing Provisions, Scholarships for children, legal assistance etc.
Present Schemes which deal with ending manual scavenging
i. NAMASTE Scheme
- National Action For Mechanized Sanitation Ecosystem (NAMASTE) is a central sector
scheme launched in 2022.
- It is undertaken jointly by the MoHUA and MoSJ&E and aims to eradicate unsafe
sewer and septic tank cleaning projects.
- The objective of the scheme is to achieve zero fatalities in sanitation; achieve all sanitation work by skilled workers; No sanitation worker should come in direct contact with faecal matter; Sanitation workers are collectivized in SHGs and are empowered to run sanitation enterprises.
- Key features:
- Identification of sewer/septic tank workers (SSWs)
- Occupational Training and Distribution of PPE Kits to SSWs
- Assistance to Safety Devices to Sanitation Response Units (SRUs)
- Extending health Insurance Benefits to identified SSWs and families
- Livelihood Assistance: Promote Mechanization and Enterprise development
by providing funding support and subsidy (capital + Interest) to the sanitation workers, to procure sanitation related equipment
- IEC (Information Education and Communication) Campaign: Massive Campaigns would be undertaken jointly by ULBs & NSKFDC to spread awareness about NAMASTE
- Key features:
ii. Swatch Bharat Mission
- One of the goals was to make Indian manual scavenging free by 2019
- Under this scheme all the dry latrines were converted into watered latrines.
Current Situation: – As per Government:
- The Union Government in Parliament has said that India had seen no deaths due to manual scavenging in the last five years, while adding that 330 people have died while engaged in cleaning sewers and septic tanks (July 2023)
- The MoSJ&E also said that a total of 530/766 districts across the country had so far reported themselves to be free of manual scavenging with rest yet to do so.
- According to data released by the government in Parliament in 2021, over 90% of manual scavengers identified in the surveys till 2018, were from scheduled caste communities.
- The government also says that surveys conducted in 2013 and 2018 had identified all existing manual scavengers (58,000).
- According to Scheme for rehabilitation of manual scavengers, the 58,000 identified sewer workers have been given a one-time cash payout of Rs 40,000 each.
- In addition, around 22,000 of them have been connected to skills and training
- Subsidies and loans are available to any of them wishing to set up their own
- NGO’s and other Critics say that the above classification is inappropriate.
- The Central government does not identify deaths due to manual scavenging and instead calls them deaths due to hazardous cleaning of septic tanks and sewers. According to Bezwada Wilson, the definition of manual scavenging is clear and that the Centre is trying to manipulate it.
Why the scourge still continues:
- Failure to properly identify people still engaged in manual scavenging.
- Lack of modernization of the sanitation infrastructure -> forces Railways, local bodies to hire manual scavengers either directly or indirectly.
- Lack of political pressure – the manual scavengers constitute a miniscule % of voters and that too is not concentrated in particular constituencies but distributed throughout the country. Thus, it hasn’t emerged as an important political issue.
- Socio-Economic Conditions
- High Unemployment rate -> Forced labor
- Deep rooted cultural and religious traditions are also responsible for the continuation of the scourge.
- Poor implementation of anti-manual scavenging laws and weak law and order situation
- There is a shortage of sanitary inspectors (officers responsible for implementation of 2013 act) in most of the ULBs -> Not a single person has been convicted under the law in last 25 years.
- Further poor law and order situation allows forced manual scavenging to continue.
Way Forward / How to deal with Manual Scavenging
i. Identification of Manual Scavengers
- An accurate estimation of the number of dry latrines and the number of people involved in manual scavenging would be the first step towards ending the scourge.
ii. Upgrading Sanitation Infrastructure
- It is impossible to end this scourge without creating an advanced sanitation infrastructure. ULBs and state governments across the country, following the example of Delhi and Hyderabad, must ensure that every sanitation worker is provided with equipment that ensures their safety.
- Mechanized cleaning of sewers and septic tanks should be made mandatory, the word “manhole” should be replaced by “machinehole” in official usage;
- Steps like completely watered toilets in home, bio toilets in Railways are good
initiatives and should cover the whole country quickly.
iii. Timely and Proper Implementation of various laws and schemes
- Effective Implementation of NAMASTE will lead to proper identification, infrastructure improvement and leading to people moving away from manual scavenging.
- Enforce law against local government officials and bodies who employ people to work as manual scavengers
- End Coercion: Ensure that officials effectively intervene to stop communities from being coerced to practice manual scavenging, including when members of such communities face threats and intimidation for attempting to leave manual scavenging.
- Ensure the rehabilitation entitlement under the 2013 act.
iv. Annihilation of caste
- Caste system has played an important role in perpetuation of this practice and decreasing the role of caste in society will play a very important role in ending manual scavenging.
- Issue has roots in cultural and religious tradition of India -> Religious leaders can play a very important role -> integrates members of the community within society by taking them to temples, eating with them etc.
1. What is manual scavenging? Discuss the key factors hindering the eradication of manual scavenging in India. [10 marks, 150 words]
2. Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 is
definitely an improvement over the previous laws against manual scavenging, but, it has not
been able to eradicate manual scavenging from the country. Why? [15 marks, 250 marks]