Manual Scavenging : When to end

In News

  • The central government has announced various measures, with an aim to eliminate manual scavenging across the country by August 2021.

In Focus: Manual Scavenging

  • Manual scavenging is a term used for the practice of physically removing human excreta (faeces) from dry toilets with bare hands, brooms and metal scrappers.

Statistics on Manual Scavenging:

  • The Socio-Economic Caste Census of 2011 counted over 82 lakh families that had at least one member employed in manual scavenging.
  • The 2011 census recorded 740,078 households that have their waste and faecal matter cleared out by manual scavengers.
  • Rights groups SafaiKaramchariAndolan puts the number of manual scavengers across India at over 7 lakh.
  • Official records show that manual scavenging has led to 376 deaths over the past five years, including 110 in 2019 alone — a 61 percent increase from 2018.
  • Unofficial records put the number of deaths of manual scavengers inside sewers, septic tanks and sewage pits at over 1500 since 2013.

Laws to prevent Manual Scavenging

  • Two legislations related to manual scavenging have been passed in the country:
    • The first legislation was Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act 1993.
    • The second legislation was the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013.
  • Manual scavenging was made illegal in 1993 in the country, but it was only in 2013 that the law recognized other hazardous aspects of the work.

About: Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013

  • The Act prohibits the employment of manual scavengers, the manual cleaning of sewers and septic tanks without protective equipment and the construction of insanitary latrines.
  • It seeks to rehabilitate manual scavengers and provide for their alternative employment.
  • The Act directs state governments to provide a one -time rehabilitation package of Rs 40,000 to identified manual scavengers.
  • Institutional Setup
  • The District Magistrate and the local authority (municipality, Panchayat, a cantonment board or railway authority) are the implementing authorities.
  • Monitoring Committees
    • The central government shall constitute a Central Monitoring Committee, while every state government would constitute a State Monitoring Committee.
    • These Committees will advise the appropriate government and local authorities on effective implementation of the law.
  • Vigilance Commission
    • Every state government shall constitute a Vigilance Commission for each district.
    • The Commission will advise the District Magistrate on the implementation of the law, oversee rehabilitation and monitor the registration, investigation and prosecution of offences.
  • National Commission for SafaiKaramcharis (NCSK)
    • The National Commission for SafaiKaramcharis (a statutory body) shall monitor the implementation of this Act, inquire into complaints of violation of the Act and advice the central and state government on effective implementation of the Act.
  • Penalties
    • Offences under the Bill shall be cognizable and non-bailable.
      • A cognisable offence is an offence in which a police officer has the authority to arrest without a warrant.
    • Individual offences
      • If any person employs a manual scavenger or constructs an insanitary latrine, he/she shall be penalized with imprisonment up to one year or a fine of upto Rs50,000 or both. The penalty for subsequent (following) offences is higher.
    • Agency related offences
      • Every local authority or agency is prohibited from employing a person for hazardous cleaning (manual cleaning without protective gear and other safety precautions) of a sewer or a septic tank.
      • The penalty for violation is imprisonment for up to two years or a fine up to Rs 2 lakh or both.

Supreme Court on manual scavenging

  • In 2014, a three-judge SC Bench comprising Chief Justice P. Sathasivam and Justices RanjanGogoi and N.V. Ramana, directed all the States to abolish manual scavenging and take steps for rehabilitation of such workers.
  • Directives of the court:
    • A compensation of Rs. 10 lakh should be given to the family of every person who has died while doing the work of a manual scavenger.
    • Railways should take time-bound strategy to end manual scavenging on the tracks.
  • Rehabilitation:
  • Safaikaramchari women should be provided support for dignified livelihood in accordance with their choice of livelihood schemes.
  • Children of manual scavengers should be entitled to scholarships as per the relevant scheme of the Central or state governments.
  • At least one member of their family, should be given training in livelihood skill and should be paid a monthly stipend.
  • At least one adult member should be given subsidy and concessional loan for taking up an alternative occupation on sustainable basis.

Reasons for the continuation of manual scavenging

  • The main reason for the continuation of manual scavenging is the existence of old “insanitary latrines”, e.latrines without water, where the excreta must be physically removed.
  • Although there are laws in place, but their implementation is weak, which plays a big role in the continuation of the practice.
  • The violations are happening across the country but no convictions have been recorded for the violation of the Act.
  • The government and other major private institutions deny the existence of manual scavenging despite the deaths reported. As a result, no measures are taken to solve this problem.

Social Stigma

  • People treat manual scavengers as untouchables because of their work. Therefore, the society is not ready to accept and include them in community activities. No employer offers them a job and landlords do not give them their houses on rent.
  • Moreover, there are no proper strategies to liberate manual scavengers psychologically.

News Summary:

  • The government of India has announced various measures to eliminate manual scavenging across the country by August 2021.

Measures announced :

  • The government will amend the Manual Scavenging Act to make mechanised cleaning (cleaning through machines) of sewers and septic tanks compulsory.
  • The government has also made an appeal to the states and city administrations to substitute the term “manhole” with “machine hole”, in official usage, to bring a shift in an approach towards this issue.
  • Along with this, a dedicated national helpline number has been set up to register complaints and provide real-time solutions on desludging or sewer overflow.

Safaimitra Suraksha Challenge:

  • The Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs has also launched a “Safaimitra Suraksha Challenge” to ensure that no person needs to enter a sewer or septic tank.
  • The Challenge will focus on creating citizen awareness on this critical issue along with infrastructure creation for mechanized cleaning and capacity building of workforce.
  • The actual on-ground assessment of participating cities will be conducted in May 2021 by an independent agency and results will be declared on 15 August 2021.
  • Cities will be awarded in three sub-categories – with population of more than 10 lakhs, 3-10 lakhs and upto 3 lakhs, with a total prize money of Rs 52 crores to be given to winning cities across all categories.
  • At the launch of the challenge, representatives from 243 cities across the country, have taken a pledge (promise) to mechanize all sewer and septic tank cleaning operations by 30th April 2021.

Future Outlook

  • In the past too, there have been proposals of 100% mechanisation to end manual scavenging but it did not change the situation on the ground.
  • The measures announced will only be helpful, if they are implemented effectively.

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