Recently, the Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment has mentioned that in India, only 508 districts out of the total 766 districts in the country have declared themselves manual-scavenging free.
In April 2022, the Centre said that there have been no manual scavenging deathsin the country but 161 workers died cleaning sewers and septic tanks in the last three years.
Tamil Nadu reported the highest number of such deathsat 27 followed by 26 in Uttar Pradesh, according to government data.
Highlights of the report:
The report highlighted that only 66% districts in country free of manual scavenging.
Under the report the ministry has differentiated ‘manual scavenging’ from’ hazardous cleaning of sewers’.
What is Manual Scavenging?
Manual evacuation refers to the process of removing human and animal waste from dry toilets and transporting it for disposal.
As per the “Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 (MS Act, 2013)” manual scavenging means manually cleaning, carrying, disposing of, or handling in any manner, human excreta in an insanitary latrine.
It is prohibited with effect from December 2013.
It was officially banned by the anti-manual scavenging Act in 1993 as a degrading practice.
Laws related to manual scavenging:
The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 prohibits the construction or maintenance of unhygienic toilets, and the hiring of any person by hand cleaning or hazardous cleaning of sewer pipes and swimming pools.
Article 21: The Article guarantees the ‘Right to Life’ and also with dignity.
Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan (Clean India initiative)
Safaimitra Suraksha Challenge
Swachhta Abhiyan App
Amendment Act:Introduction of 'The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation (Amendment) Bill, 2020' as part of the National Action Plan for the Department of Justice and Empowerment.
Mechanical Cleaning: The Bill proposes to completely clean sewage systems and provide better occupational safety and compensation in the event of an accident.
Currently, engaging any person for the purpose of hazardous cleaning of sewer pipes and sewerage tanks by any person or agency is punishable by imprisonment for up to five years or a fine of up to Rs.5 lakh or both.
Why is it still prevalent?
The reason behind the practice of manual scavenging still persists as due to following reasons:
Lack of proper/strict laws: “As the present act says that, manual scavenging is prohibited and sewers must be cleaned using mechanical means, however, they can be cleaned using humans in extreme situations with protective gears. “
Lack of proper technology:
As the sludge removal from the sewers is difficult from the machines due to its hard in nature, thus humans are used for this purpose.
There is a need for development of adequate technologies with affordability.
According to the scheme for rehabilitation of manual scavengers, the 58,000 identified sewer workers have been given a one-time cash pay-out of ?40,000 each.
In addition, around 22,000 of them (less than half) have been connected to skills training programmes.
However, the scheme for rehabilitation of manual scavengers has now been merged with the NAMASTE scheme for 100% mechanisation of sewer work.
The FY 2023-24 Union Budget showed no allocation for the rehabilitation scheme and ?100 crore allocations for the NAMASTE scheme.
Other measures taken:
The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment will amend the law for making machine cleaning mandatory, whereas the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs has launched the ‘SafaimitraSuraksha Challenge.’
The Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras has developed a robot with the aim to eliminate manual scavenging in India.
Around 10 units will be deployed across Tamil Nadu and the plan is to put them to use in Gujarat and Maharashtra next.