Sanitation workers’ safety and welfare must be urgently addressed

News: Covid pandemic highlighted the urgency of addressing the issues related to manual scavengers.

Sanitation work in India is tied to caste-based occupational roles. It is majorly performed by people from scheduled caste and schedule Tribes.

What is the status of manual scavenging in India?

Presently, the government does not directly employ manual scavengers, but the work is outsourced to private providers. It is these private providers that employ manual scavengers.

The sixth Economic Census, 2013 reported around 1.7 lakh businesses underwater supply, sewerage, waste management, and 82% of these are in the private sector which reportedly employs manual scavengers.

A manual scavenging survey by the Ministry of Social Justice and empowerment found 66, 692 manual scavengers till October 2020.

Read here: The Plight of Manual Scavengers in India
What steps have been taken by the government?

The government enacted the Prohibition of the Employment of Manual Scavengers Act 2013 which prohibited any form of employment of manual scavengers.

The Swatch Bharat Mission led to the construction of toilets with on-site sanitation systems like septic tanks and pits.

Atal Mission for rejuvenation and urban transformation, which focuses on 500 cities has led to the development of infrastructure such as sewerage networks, sewerage treatment plants.

Latest, National Sample Survey, 2019 showed that more than 65% of households in India have toilets with septic tanks.

Ministry of Social Justice and empowerment has taken up rehabilitation of sanitation workers under revised self-employment scheme for rehabilitation of manual scavengers.

National Safai Karamchari Finance and Development Corporation is building capacity at the local government level, providing mechanized desludging trucks and financial assistance to sanitation workers.

What is the way forward?

Given that so many plans have failed to yield results, there is a need for strict monitoring of the implementation of the act.

The government has proposed a new initiative of national action for the mechanized Sanitation ecosystem. The plan will provide monitoring of sanitation services, including the activities of private sanitation service organizations. These could pave the way for eradicating manual scavenging and ensuring the welfare of all consultation workers.

Source: This post is based on the article “Sanitation workers’ safety and welfare must be urgently addressed” published in the Indian Express on 23rd November 2021.

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