Manual Scavenging

What is Manual Scavenging?
“Manual scavenger” means a person engaged in manually carrying human excreta and the expression “manual scavenging” shall be construed accordingly
Some events/keywords related to it?
  • Manual Scavenging in modern airports:
    • Despite Manual Scavenging being banned in Tamil Nadu it still takes place at the Chennai airport.
    • Workers  have been spotted cleaning the manholes on the premises of the airport without even any protective gear.
  • In November 2012, thousands of Dalit women started a 63-day long National March – Maila Mukti Yatra, for eradication of manual scavenging under the ‘Rashtriya Garima Abhiyan‘ banner, demanding comprehensive rehabilitation of people who have been forced into manual scavenging.
  •  Census 2011 has found 7.94 lakh cases of human scavenging in the country.
  • The ‘Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act‘ enacted in 1993 by the Government of India prohibits manual scavenging in the country.
  • In 2013, Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Bill, to ban manual scavenging and rehabilitate those who were forced to do it, was introduced.
  • The Central government, which runs the self-employment scheme for the rehabilitation of these workers, has reduced funds from ₹448 crore in the 2014-15 budget to ₹5 crore this year.
  • In the last 5 years:
    • Over 9000 people, who are employed in the dehumanizing practice of manual scavenging and cleaning insanitary latrines, have died from multiple chronic conditions.
    • Over 600 have died in the hazardous cleaning of sewer and septic tanks.
    • It is estimated that there are over 18-20 % unreported cases in both these categories.
What are the measures taken by the government to end it?
  • In 1980-81, the Ministry of Home Affairs took up the Centrally Sponsored Scheme for Liberation of Scavengers by way of conversion of existing dry latrines into low cost pour flush latrines and providing alternative employment to the unemployed scavengers as one of the measures for removal of Untouchability and providing financial assistance in selected towns.
  • A Task Force constituted by the Planning Commission in July 1989 on the subject suggested for separate scheme for liberation and rehabilitation. It also explored the bases for the enactment of certain legislation to ban construction and continuation of dry latrines and prohibit the practice of manual scavenging.
  • In 1992, the scheme of ‘Liberation of Scavengers’ was bifurcated.
  • For conversion of dry latrines into water borne flush latrines, an ‘Integrated Low Cost Sanitation (ILCS) Scheme, was started.
  • The National Scheme for Liberation and Rehabilitation of Scavengers and their Dependents (NSLRS) was started for providing alternative employment to the liberated scavengers and their dependents.
  • Taking into consideration the seriousness of the problem and the requests of the State Governments, Parliament enacted the “Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines(Prohibition) Act, 1993”. The Act, inter alia, provides that no person shall:-
    • engage in or employ for or permit to be engaged in or employed for   any other person for manually carry human excreta; or
    • Construct or maintain a dry latrine
  • Parliament passed the ‘Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013’ (MS Act, 2013)
    • The objectives of 2013 Act
      • Eliminate the insanitary latrines.
      • Prohibit:-
        • Employment as Manual Scavengers
        • Hazardous manual cleaning of sewer and septic tanks.
      • Survey of Manual Scavengers and their rehabilitation
    • Main features of the 2013 Act
      • Definitions of manual scavengers and insanitary latrines widened to cover not only dry latrines but other insanitary latrines as well.
      • Offences under the Act are cognizable and non-bail able and attract stringent penalties.
      • Vigilance/Monitoring Committee at sub-Division, District, State and Central Govt. levels.
      • National Commission for Safai Karamcharis (NCSK) would, inter alia, monitor implementation of the Act and enquire into complaints regarding contravention of the provisions of the Act.
      • Provision of construction of adequate number of sanitary community latrines in urban areas, within three years from the date of commencement of this Act to eliminate the practice of open defecation.
  • Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs has launched the Safaimitra Suraksha Challenge.
  • Introduction of ‘The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation (Amendment) Bill, 2020 as a part of Social Justice and Empowerment Ministry’s National Action Plan.
The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation (Amendment) Bill, 2020 makes following important changes:
  • Mechanised Cleaning: The Bill proposes to completely mechanise sewer cleaning and provide better protection at work and compensation in case of accidents.
  • Penalty: The Bill proposes to make the law banning manual scavenging more stringent by increasing the imprisonment term and the fine amount.
  • Currently, engaging any person for hazardous cleaning of sewers and septic tanks by any person or agency is punishable with imprisonment of up to five years or a fine of up to Rs. 5 lakh or both.
  • Funds: The funds will be provided directly to the sanitation workers and not to the municipalities or contractors to purchase the machinery.
Constitutional safeguards:
  • Article 14: Equality before law. (Right to Equality)
  • Article 16 (2): Equality of opportunity in matters of public employment
  • Article 19 (1)(g) : Right to Freedom (Protection of certain rights regarding freedom of speech), to practice any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business.
  • Article 21 : Protection of life and personal liberty
  • Article 23 : Prohibition of traffic in human beings and forced labor
What should the government do now?
Till now, the government has reached only 5% of the total population of manual scavengers & 20% of the total area of India in its identification-related surveys. So:
  • Government should focus on expanding the categories of manual scavengers like dry latrine workers, daily sweepers, hospital sanitation workers, bone scavengers etc
  • It should properly estimate the death of sanitation workers of all categories
  • It should understand the lapses that have occurred in the implementation of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual scavengers and Rehabilitation (PEMSR) Act.
Challenges in implementation of the Act
  • Non-compliance is hardly ever penalized
  • Compensation and promises of one-time case assistance are only provided in around 40 per cent of “all recorded cases”.
  • The government is using a loophole in the Manual Scavenging Act 2013 – “that when a person is employed to clean excreta with the help of such devices using protective gears then the person will not be deemed as a manual scavenger”, the question remains about what these devices are and are they actually provided.
  • Due to a lack of data, it is difficult to identify the death of manual scavengers owing to an occupational hazard. This makes it difficult to provide relief to family members of the deceased.

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