- Sanitation workers are one of the major contributors in realizing Swacch Bharat Mission targets such as collection of door to door municipal solid waste, manual rag-picking and segregation of solid wastes.
- Sanitation workers suffer from social stigma with respect to their work, especially the manual scavengers.
- The Government has taken a number of steps to effect changes in the perception of the people towards the sanitation workers.
- In 2014, the Prime Minister himself initiated a campaign to urge the public to change the way we call sanitary workers as Kudawala\Kacharawala to Safai Wala.
- Further, during recently concluded Kumbh Mela in Uttar Pradesh's Prayagraj, the Prime Minister went on to the extent of washing the feet of the sanitation workers in recognizing their efforts and contribution in keeping the Meal and its surroundings clean and hygienic.
(a) Legal Protection for Eliminating Manual Scavenging
- Sanitation workers are divided broadly into two categories: Safai Karmcharis & Manual Scavengers.
- In order to prohibit employment of manual scavengers, the Government had enacted Prohibition of Employment of Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013. The objectives of this Act are to eliminate the insanitary latrines:
- Prohibit (a) employment as manual scavengers and, (b) hazardous manual cleaning of sewer and septic tanks and
- Survey of manual scavengers and their rehabilitation within a time-bound manner.
- Any contravention of the provisions is punishable with imprisonment up to 2 years and fine up to Rs.2 lakh, or both.
- In 2014, convergence between various line Ministries and their respective schemes were achieved for faster identification and elimination of insanitary latrines and for eradication of manual scavenging.
(b) Ensuring Minimum Wages, Safe Working Conditions and Pension Benefits
- For ensuring minimum wages and timely payment of wages to all workers including the sanitary workers, Ministry of Labour and Employment has enacted the Code on Wages Bill, 2019.
- This bill also provides for higher wage premium for workers engaged in arduous and hazardous work in difficult circumstances.
- The code also prohibits gender discrimination in wages, recruitment, and conditions of work, which will benefit women sanitation workers.
- In addition to the Code on Wages, 2019 Government also introduced in the Lok Sabha the Code on Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions, 2019.
- The various enabling provisions of this Code will not only boost the well-being of the sanitation workers but will also ensure safe and healthy work environment.
- Efforts are currently underway to draft a Social Security Code, which will benefit not just the minuscule organized sector workers but will also include vast unorganized sector workers under its scope and ambit.
- The Ministry has also introduced a pension scheme for unorganized workers namely Pradhan Mantri Shram Yogi Maan-dhan (PM-SYM) to ensure old-age protection for unorganized workers, which will benefits the sanitation workers.
(c) Housing Education, Financial Assistance and Skill Development Schemes
- Under Indira Awas Yojana (IAY) of the Ministry of Rural Development, there is a provision for providing assistance for construction of new houses and upgradation of kutcha or dilapidated houses.
- Assistance of up to Rs.75,000 is provided to the eligible households. A provision has been made under IAY for special coverage of identified manual scavengers for providing them housing facilities in rural areas, irrespective of their BPL Status.
- Under the Scheme of Pre-Matric Scholarship, the children of manual scavengers, tanners and flayers, waste pickers and those engaged in hazardous cleaning are also provided scholarship between Rs. 225 to Rs. 700 per month for a period of 10 months in a year for pursuing their studies up to class 10th.
- Further, the National Safai Karamcharis Finance and Development Corporation (NSKFDC) acts as an Apex Corporation for the all-round socio-economic upliftment of the safai karmacharis, scavengers and their dependents by creating alternate means of livelihoods.
- NSKFDC was set up in 1997 as a wholly-owned GoI Undertaking under the Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment.
- It also provides financial assistance at concessional rates of interest to the State Channelizing Agencies (SCAs), Regional Rural banks (RRBs), and Nationalised Banks for onward disbursement to the target group of NSKFDC.
- It also implements non-loan –based schemes in the form of imparting skill development training to the eligible to the members.
- Apart from these, the NSKFDC is the Nodal Agency for implementation of the Self-Employment Scheme for Rehabilitation of Manual Scavengers (SRMS)
(d) Protecting Sanitation Workers through Ayushman Bharat
- The Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (PMJAY) will cover over 74 crore poor and deprived families providing coverage up to Rs. 5 lakh per family per year (on a family floater basis) for almost all secondary care and most of tertiary care hospitalization, with no cap on family size.
Steps Needs to be taken
- The goal of making India clean is as important as the goal of keeping India clean. Therefore, maintaining ODF status is important, so that villagers are not returning to the old practice of open defecation.
- Although we are Open Defecation Free (ODF) but the country is not garbage or litter free.
- There must be focus on putting in place a robust monitoring mechanism to check the condition of sanitation at the district and Panchayat level.
- There must be focus on Recycle, Rebuild, Reuse (RRR) for converting our waste into resources. The first step in this regard will be 100 per cent achievements in terms of waste segregation, successful disposal, and streamlining waste infrastructure.
- Despite a ban on manual scavenging, its existence is reported from time to time. Therefore, use of technology can play a key role.
- Prioritization and faster identification of insanitary latrines and manual scavengers through a time-bound plan must be seriously and earnestly pursued for effective rehabilitation of manual scavengers.