The menace of manual scavenging in India


Despite launching many initiatives and forcing an act to eradicate manual scavenging, death of laborers during scavenging manually has become very common.

What is manual scavenging?

  • Manual scavenging refers to the practice of manually cleaning, carrying, disposing or handling in any manner, human excreta from dry latrines and sewers.
  • Practice of manual scavengingis linked to India’s caste system prevalent since ancient times where so-called lower castes were expected to perform this job.

Present status in India

  • There are possibly over 12 lakh manual scavengers across India.
  • According to a report tabled in the RajyaSabha in 2016, 22,327 lose their lives every year due to manual scavenging.
  • Only 13 states have been able to identify 12,742 manual scavengers. This comes to around 7% of the 2011 social economic census figure.
  • There are 22 states where not a single person has self-declared to be a manual scavenger
  • Manual scavenging is linked to the presence of dry/insanitary latrines in the country.
  • India has 2.6 million “insanitary” latrines, which require human excreta to be handled manually, according to Census 2011.

Laws, regulations and scheme against manual scavenging

Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993

  • This act banned employment of people as manual scavengers.
  • The act made employing a manual scavenger a cognisable offence with imprisonment and fine.
  • The 1993 Act made it the responsibility of citizens, organisations and the state to maintain sanitary toilets.
  • Act also prohibited the construction of dry toilets

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

  • It Prohibits the engagement or employment of anyone as a manual scavenger
  • Act made the states responsible for identifying and rehabilitating manual scavengers by providing them training, giving assistance, loans and even houses.
  • It further prohibits dry latrines and other forms of insanitary latrines.
  • It is the responsibility of the local authority to identify dry latrines in the area and demolish and convert them into sanitary latrines

Self-Employment Scheme for the Rehabilitation of Manual Scavengers

The scheme provides for:-

  • One-time cash assistance of Rs 40,000 each to the identified manual scavengers.
  • Loan for undertaking livelihood projects upto Rs 15 lakh at concessional rate of interest.
  • Credit linked capital subsidy upto Rs 3,25,000.
  • Skill development training upto two years with stipend of Rs 3000 per month.

Swacch Bharat Abhiyaan

Some of the features of mission that promotes prohibition on manual scavenging are:

  • Conversion of insanitary toilets to pour flush toilets,
  • Eradication of manual scavenging,
  • Spreading awareness among the citizens about sanitation and its linkages with public health.

Why does it still exist?

There are many reasons behind prevalence of manual scavenging, such as:-

  • Presence of insanitary latrines: Majority of this type of latrines require cleaning by hand.
  • Disinterest of state governments: Despite legal obligations, state governments are not keen to demolish or rebuild old facilities lacking sanitation.
  • State governments have not conducted a full census of both the latrines and the people engaged in clearing such waste.
  • Budget crunch: Central government has reduced fund allocation for rehabilitation of manual scavengers from 448 crore in the 2014-15 budget to Rs. 5 crore this year.
  • Social norms: Many communities still regard the inclusion of a sanitary toilet as ritual and physical pollution of the house.
  • Denial to change by manual scavengers: Some official data shows that manual scavengers are reluctant to leave their present occupation and take up the self-employment because of illiteracy and lack of confidence in running self-employment projects.
  • No administrative accountability: 2013 act does not outline administrative measures beyond conduct rules, that can be imposed if officials do not implement the Act.
  • Presence of informal ways: Contractors that are being provided with the sanitary projects are employing manual scavengers off the official record.

What should be done?

  • Without community participation and awareness this dehumanizing practice cannot be abolished. Government must try to create a favorable environment through community awareness and sensitization of local administration.
  • Strict enforcement of criminal penalties of 2013 act must be undertaken.
  • As long as open defecation and dry latrines continue, manual scavenging is not likely to die, thus government must fasten the process of identification of insanitary toilets, their demolition and rebuilding.
  • Build the capacity of the community to promote rehabilitation efforts and self-reliance and also build leadership in the community with a particular focus on Dalit women
  • Alternate means of employment should be generated for the impoverished people who are forced to become manual scavengers due to lack of alternatives means of livelihood.
  • Breaking caste barriers through education and economic uplift.
  • Compensation sanctioned for the families of those who died in the course of the humiliating and hazardous work should be paid immediately.
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