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Manual Scavenging and laws

  • Published
    6th Mar, 2023

A recent video which got viral from the Dharampuri region of Tamil Nadu shows the dark reality of India’s Caste system and the still prevalent manual scavenging in parts of the country by a specific caste group.

  • This is a violation of Fundamental rights and Laws made against scavenging.

What is Manual Scavenging?

  • Manual evacuation refers to the process of removing human and animal waste from dry toilets and transporting it for disposal.
  • It was officially banned by the anti-manual scavenging Act in 1993 as a degrading practice.
  • Unfortunately, snatching by hand is still going on. According to the Socio-Economic Caste Census 2011, 1.8 million families have joined the scam to earn a living.
  • Not only does it violate basic human rights to life but it also poses a serious threat to human health.

The data:

  • In April 2022, the Centre said that there have been no manual scavenging deaths in the country but 161 workers died cleaning sewers and septic tanks in the last three years.
  • Tamil Nadu reported the highest number of such deaths at 27 followed by 26 in Uttar Pradesh, according to government data.

Laws related to manual scavenging:

  • 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.
  • Aim:
  • The Plan aims to make the modern sewerage system more efficient and less fuel-efficient; the establishment of a sewerage system and sewage treatment system with transport tanks, transport and treatment of sewage treatment; to equip municipalities, and establish Clean Response Units with support lines.
  • The Bill makes the following important changes:
  • Mechanical Cleaning: The Bill proposes to completely clean sewage systems and provide better occupational safety and compensation in the event of an accident.
  • Penalty: The Bill proposes to make the law prohibiting the seizure of hands more severe by increasing the time of detention and fines.

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.

  • Funds: Funds will be given directly to sanitation workers and not to municipalities or contractors to purchase equipment.

Other related provisions:

  • 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.
  • It also provides measures to rehabilitate people identified by the Municipality as service providers.
  • In 2014, the Supreme Court ordered the government to identify all those who died in the wild since 1993 and to provide Rs.10 lakh each as compensation for their families.
  • In 1993, the Government of India introduced the Manual Scavengers and the Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act prohibiting the hiring of hand-operated scavengers to clean dry toilets and the construction of flush toilets.
  • In 1989, the Prevention of Atrocities Act became an integrated security guard for sanitation workers; more than 90% of the people employed as handicraftsmen belong to Organized Castes. This was an important sign of the liberation of artisans from selected traditional practices.
  • Article 21 of the Constitution guarantees the ‘Right to Life’ and also with dignity.

How it is an Institutional failure?

  • Persistence in various provinces: Recent examples from communities involved in genocide in the provinces of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh underscore the government's failure to eradicate genocide and eradicate deeply entrenched ideologies and practices that still bind members of affected communities.
  • Law Enforcement: India's constitution prohibits the practice of non-compliance, and the Bill of Rights, 1955, prohibits forcing anyone to use hand-scratching. The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993 declared that the employment of hand guards and the construction of dry toilets would be punishable by fines and imprisonment. Yet its persistence reflects the failure of the law and the country.
  • Deaths: Safai Karmachari Andolan, reported 1,269 people were killed in the 2014-16 genocide.
  • Reports of deaths of workers involved in cleaning and repairing pits in the mines, during the ‘Swachh Bharat’ period show the state’s failure to eradicate the practice.

Recent developments:

  • 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.’
  • Technological development:
  • 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.
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