Context – Centre announces new measures to end manual scavenging by august 2021.
What is manual scavenging and step taken by government to eliminate manual scavenging?
Manual scavenging is the practice of removing human excrement from toilets, septic tanks or sewers by hand.
- More than 375 workers died while cleaning septic and sewer tanks between 2015 and 2019.
Government initiatives –
- Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act 1993-
- The act prohibited the employment of manual scavengers for manually cleaning dry latrines and also the construction of dry toilets (that do not operate with a flush).
- Prohibition of Employment of Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013
- Prohibition:The act prohibits the employment of manual scavengers, manual cleaning of sewers and septic tanks without protective equipment, and the construction of insanitary latrines.
- Rehabilitation:It seeks to rehabilitate manual scavengers and provide for their alternative employment.
What are the new measures announced by the government?
- Mechanized cleaning– Sewers and septic tanks in 243 cities will be mechanized and a helpline created to register complaints if manual scavenging is reported
- Change in terminology– The word “manhole” will be replaced with “machine-hole” in official usage
- Direct allocation of funds– Social Justice and Empowerment Ministry said that it would directly transfer funds to ‘sanitation workers’ to buy cleaning machines, instead of contractors or municipal corporations.
Why the impacts of such measures always fall short?
These measures are not giving adequate attention to the social conditions that force people to plumb toxic cesspools.
- Failure in the implementation of law-
- The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, allows the use of manual labour to clean sewage if the employer provides safety gear. But, in practice, this provision is more flouted than followed.
- Municipal corporations and local bodies very often outsource the sewer cleaning tasks to private contractors, who do not maintain proper rolls of workers.
- In case after case of sanitation workers being asphyxiated to death while working toxic sludge pools in different parts of the country, these contractors have denied any association with the deceased.
- Discrimination– The entrenched belief in the caste system that assumes people belonging to a particular caste group will readily perform the stigmatized task of emptying latrines.
- The design of septic tanks in large parts of the country is not amenable to technological intervention and machines are too big to enter narrow by-lanes, especially in dense urban areas.
- Government’s move to use machines is a first step towards according dignity and respect to sewer workers. However, technology’s emancipatory powers will be realized at their fullest only when the states stop living in denial about manual scavenging.
- Systems need to be put in place to prevent pilferage, ensure that the machines reach the right hands.